Comfort Woman by Tanya Ko-Hong


“Comfort Woman” by Tanya Ko-Hong


On August 14, 1991, in Seoul, a woman named Hak Soon Kim came forward to denounce the Japanese for the sexual enslavement of more than 200,000 women during WWII. They were referred to as “Wianbu” in Korean and “Comfort Women” in English.


1939, Chinju, South Kyangsan Province


Holding tiny hands


balsam flower red

colored by summer’s end


ripening persimmons

bending over the Choga roofs

fade into distance


When the truck crosses the last hill

our hometown is the dust

Soonja kicks off her white shoes


1941, That Autumn


that night, Japanese

soldiers wielded swords

dragged me away

while I was gathering


Pine needles

fell from my basket

filled the air with the scent

of white blood.

When you scream in your dream

there’s no sound.


Grandma made Song Pyunon. The maru,

asked mom, Is the water boiling?


I feel pain



They put a long stick between my legs—

Open up, open, Baka Chosengjing!

they rage, spraying

their sperm

the smell of

burning dog

burning life



grunting on top of me—

Under my blood I am dying


1943, Shanghai, China


One night

a soldier asked all the girls


Who can do one hundred men?


I raised my hand—

Soonja    did not.


The soldiers put her in boiling water

alive and

fed us.


1946, Chinju Again


One year after


I came home

Short hair

not wearing Han Bok

talk without tongue

Mother hid me in the back room


At night Mother took me behind the house

and washed me

Hot steel scars like burnt bark

like roots of old trees

under the crescent glow

She always smiled when she washed me


Your skin is white jade

She bit her lower lip

washing my tummy softly like a baby’s

but they ripped opened my womb

with the baby inside


Mother made white rice and seaweed soup

put my favorite white fish on top

but, I can’t eat flesh.


Mother hanged herself in the granary that night

left a little bag in my room

my dowry with a rice ball.

Father threw it at me

waved his hand toward the door


I left at dusk


30 years

40 years




bury it with me


                        They called me, wianbu—

I had a name



1991, 3:00 AM


[That night

the thousand blue stars

became white butterflies

ripped rice paper

flew into my room


Endless white

the web in my mouth,

unhealed red scars,

stitching one by one—

butterflies lifting me

heavier than the dead

butterflies opening my bedroom door

heavier than shame]




I stand



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Tanya Ko Hong’s artist statement: My art is a border, a threshold between English and Korean, voice and voiceless, secrets and truth, dark and light. I came from South Korea, where as a woman I was taught to be submissive, silent. Poetry was forbidden, but absolutely essential. Living in Los Angeles, I’ve learned what it means to use my voice. My work engages creatively and critically with the role of women and diaspora. My works says, I am here and won’t be silent. My warm hands melt the walls of marginalization. I stand at the shoreline, collect the shells of our untold stories. I am here to bring our sisters to the lighthouse. We will support and create our art in freedom.–Tanya Ko Hong (고현혜)

Author: A Room of Her Own

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