She Whispers Korean in My Ear by Tanya Ko Hong


“She Whispers Korean in My Ear” by Tanya Ko Hong


We were drinking homemade wine
when my blonde friend told me
Once I had a Korean boyfriend—
his mother hated me
but how I loved her food…

She knew a bad Korean word—
Whisper in my ear, I said

Jajee, she said
and her face bloomed red as a bong soong ah—
my face cooled sub zero.

Only a whore can use that word—
horny women
dirty women

That’s not a bad word, I replied,
It’s just a part of the body, isn’t it?
But I think
Who does she think she is
to say that word
a man can say that word
but not a woman—not even to her husband.

When referring to the penis, a Korean doctor says
songgi—a Chinese word.

Come to think of it
I never pronounced that word,
with my mouth—

I’d look down and say
penis, I can say
but using *ㅈ (gioat)
I never said it


*“ㅈ” (gioat) , is a Korean alphabet that is phonetically equivalent to English alphabet, “J” for the word “Jajee”



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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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