The greatest relationship I’ve ever had is with Empire.
Even before my mother, there was Empire; long after she’s gone, Empire.
My mother disowned me when I became pregnant, but not Empire.
I gave over my body to motherhood, in a country not my own, except for Empire.
Empire held me in its arms, Your child is my child, said Empire.
Parakeets burst out of the Northern sky, singing to me as a gift from Empire.
That my son has thick black hair and long legs is because of Empire.
That my daughter rolls her “r’s” is because of Empire.
That my children have Dutch names my parents can’t pronounce is because of Empire.
That my children have Korean names everyone approves of, but no one uses, is because of Empire.
That my children learn Korean history by watching K-dramas on Netflix is because of Empire.
That my children call themselves half-Dutch, half-Korean, half-American, that sometimes they also say English, not yet knowing why nations and languages have different names, that excess is also because of Empire.
My children are beautiful in a way I will never be, in the eyes of Empire.
But I see that as one way I’ve come to succeed within Empire.
After all, I gave over my body to birth to these perfect specimen-citizens of Empire.
Just like I gave over my name, at age three, to become legible to Empire.
Just like I gave over any claim to a home, just to be at home with Empire.
I’ll give you the world, anything you dream is yours, promised Empire.
But I rarely remember dreams, and if I do, they are only of Empire.
I post photos of myself with cat ears, anime eyes, my true emotive self in a shower of sparkles, “what cocktail am I?,” a spinning thirst trap for Empire.
All the Valentine’s Day cards I’ve ever written were really to you, Empire.
In fact, every word I’ve sighed or sung or screamed authentically was to you, Empire.
Every line I’ve loved from Dante to Baudelaire to Tsvetaeva I read through you, Empire.
Empire comments on my post in a language I don’t understand; I hit “see translation” and then feel grateful to my beloved Empire.
I buy Napa cabbage in an Utrecht supermarket to make kimchi for Empire.
I bury the French glass jar in my garden, next to poppies, as an offering for Empire.
At midnight, I turn on my computer to commune with other poets writing about Empire.
We’re lit with the light of three different continents, but we marvel at how space and time don’t matter for Empire.
In a movie theater I watch Parasite with subtitles I don’t need but were offered by Empire.
Don’t you know it’s because of you they’re given American names – like I was – a European family moves in at the end – like in my home – it’s the perfect Hollywood film – like my immigrant dream, I whisper in the dark to Empire.
My son points to the idols and asks, Why do they all look the same? and I don’t tell him that’s racist, I tell him that’s Empire.
When I was his age, there were such same-looking soldiers on the street, all in the name of Empire.
We ate spicy stew with pieces of hot dog and sliced cheese, tenderly prepared by Empire.
The radio played songs with nonsensical lyrics in English, and I danced along with Empire.
My parents claimed they tried to give me a better life by moving into the heart of Empire.
But it wasn’t necessary; at the center of my heart was always Empire.
They put me in Empire’s arms and said, Our child is your child, to Empire.
And if they hadn’t, could you have kept your body, name, home from me? asks Empire.
Could your parents have come to love you? sighs Empire. Could your children have been beautiful? sings Empire. Could you have written your poetry? screams Empire.