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In the Permanent Collection
Do this in memory of my mother

and of my mother’s mother

Here is this lacquered box (Fig. 100.5)           inlaid

with their blood          Most of what you see here

has been excavated from tombs or other archaeological sites

damaged during burial and exhumation          and removed

from its cultural context          preventing

accurate provenance

Notice the decorative effects marked

by centuries of repeated invasion

Fig 100.7: Here is a locket no longer clasped         around the neck

of the laughing girl who lingered too long

as the men approached          Notice

how the delicate chain has been broken

Fig 100.9: Beneath the stone bridge          everyone is crying out

but you can’t hear them          in this pictorial scene

Notice        there is blood everywhere

beneath the scene        the artist has provided descriptions

in the manner of closed captioning

          [distant gunfire]

and occasional subtitles e.g., “Mistakes were made.”

Here we see a typical outfit for a young girl in Korea

(Fig 113.5) blue skirt and white blouse        cotton weave pattern

note the hand-stitched hem suggesting

repeated mending          hastily as the stitching is uneven

Fig 210.7 & 210.8: unearthed from hillside in North Chungeheong Province

we see buttons         rubber shoes

and clothing of unknown provenance

     [men shouting]

106 cartridges from Calvin and M1 rifles

200 bodies estimated        from what remained

“Corporal damage, property damage, deaths in battle, forced arrests, and deaths”

Woven into the dress         the recording

of the last things she witnessed        memory imprecise but scent of

orange blossom and persimmon

linen starched and bleached (Fig. 254.1)

“At night we cried while we ate

a few grains of rice with some water”

It is likely it would have been traded for more utilitarian costume

buttons or fasteners rendering any garment useless

     [men marching]

Such garments are often explained in accounts of forcible capture

     [men marching]

“in the morning we saw

that the rice had been soaked in blood”

It is difficult to date these pieces accurately        discolorations

tears in the fabric and staining        suggest it was likely

these garments were torn or cut off        

“Guns fired every day. Bodies in the dirt and the dogs would drag the corpses around.”

Fig. 254.3: yellow cardigan, blue skirt

Fig. 254.8: black cotton bundle containing underwear, sanitary towels, and soap

“When there were battles, we were glad for it. It meant fewer men.”

Fig. 254.9: school uniform including white socks

In the contemporary era we see the depiction of a child        lost

in what appears to be        suburban mall food court (Fig 247.2)

from her expression you can conclude

     [muffled crying]

that she has been lost for a long time

Fig. 247.3 Child reaches out for

Fig. 247.4 Bewildered woman shakes the child off

Fig. 247.5 Child screaming

     [screaming continues]

NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, quoted text is taken from oral histories of Korean comfort women. Comfort women is the term given to the women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery to the Japanese military in the time leading up to and during World War II. [Source: True Stories of Korean Comfort Women, Cassell Global Issues Series, 1996.]

Mary-Kim Arnold is the author of Litany for the Long Moment (Essay Press) and the forthcoming The Fish & The Dove (Noemi Press). She teaches in the Nonfiction Writing Program at Brown University and lives in Rhode Island with her family.