Gyul (Tangerine) by Seowon (Angela) Lee

Homage to Comfort Women of Korea circa 1940s

 Illustration by Sophie Levy

Illustration by Sophie Levy


My grandfather told me,
marry anyone but a jap,
as I try to peel gyul in one husk, and fail.
White veins separate, serrate
supple pulp, unveils like nail beds,
it makes a sound as it spreads
slight resistance as they undress
mikan, gyul
whatever name you placed on her.

We’re keeled over, still.
Our sons have been used for target practice.
Our daughters have been stolen away as easily as picking
mikan from gyul trees.

Did they say, enter me
in their scuffled skirts,
berry-dyed, sun-dried on mountaintops
in faded vests and braided locks,
smudge of coal left on their cheek from
heating the morning stove with wayward branches
dropped from rolling carts, pages of textbooks,
family photos, strands of hair.
They said, I would light myself
aflame if I could feed them, warm them.

So they step on that boat rocking wayward
unknowing, where shoulders are called porcelain
where nails break through rind, where
bruises bloom on limbs and lips, where liquor
and tears spill in the same husk until
all sweet pulp seeps into the floor.

Who can return,
peeled tangerines, teeth-marked,
hunch-backed, but
still they spit out the blood, wipe their lips,
hold their head as high as blemished necks can hold.

Gyul stains under fingernails
dyes the zest of its skin on cold hands,
its tart scent lingers long after
teeth tug flesh, mouth mars skin.

I sweep away torn rinds and
clasp my grandfather’s quivering hands.
The gyul tree in the yard is strong,
We stand sweet and tall.

*mikan: Japanese word for tangerine
*gyul: Korean word for tangerine

Seowon (Angela) Lee is a freshman in Columbia College who will probably major in some combination of Creative Writing and English because she is indecisive and abhors math. Her work has been published in the Jet Fuel Review and the Claremont Review as well as in her high school literary magazine The Wit, which has won the National Press Association award. She is currently obsessed with first snow, Percy Shelley, and trying to survive her first semester of college. Instagram | Facebook