Thank God for Hard Feelings

The life of a garment worker in midtown Manhattan.

She worked as seamstress in the sweatshops of New York City.

Whose mother is not the love of their life?

She pushed her lunch on co-workers

from Russia, Togo, Haiti, Dominican Republic.

They disliked the sugar fried anchovies.

They saw the nimbus on each fish

and politely or raucously declined. The cavernous

spaces of her mind. Having studied graphic design

at Duksung Women’s College, Dobong-gu, Seoul,

what else was she going to do but write a novel.

Staring at sea windows, she scrawled and chalked

in her head. Drong of eternal absence. An expert

on the social history of the Staten Island Ferry,

she confided in me the act of crying was a privilege.

What type of person leaves a near full can of

coconut water on the bleachers? You have to be

happy in order to weep, or sob. I can teach you,

she said to me. If you can hold a pencil, I can teach you

how to draw. But I’ve known people who have

no hands. Who have no fingers.


Copyright © 2022 by Haesong Kwon. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“In part, the poem is inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s essay, ‘The Love of My Life.’ My thinking was: whose mother is not the love of their life? My parents lived in Staten Island for a few years when I was in college. I used to get on the Staten Island Ferry with my mother: she to go to work in a sweatshop in Manhattan, and me to meet friends in the Village. Mother and I had great conversations, but I didn’t know it back then. We were just getting on a boat, finding a seat, chatting, and then going our separate ways.”
Haesong Kwon