Crayon Self-Portrait as House on Fire

We were walking through the streets of Gangnam together when my mother told me to be careful of rape. Nobody will protect you here. Advertisements for sex plastered all over the ground. We had been walking over the headless bodies of women to get home. When I was a child, my mother used to tape huge sheets of butcher paper to our kitchen floor, and I, not knowing how to draw faces, would fill the space with female bodies that ended at the neck. If she had time, my mother would draw the faces in for me; most of the time, our floor remained a crayon version of the Gangnam sidewalk. Once, I wanted to give those beheaded bodies a home and tried to draw a house over them, but it refused to come out how I wanted. I went to my mother for help, and she took a red crayon and, drawing flames over it, said now it’s just a little fire. Which is what the nurse in New York said years later before she stuck the needle in my shoulder to give me a shot she said would burn out of me every disease rape could give. The shot was a thousand dollars and not covered, my mother was thousands of miles away, that night in Korea was from a childhood I’d left behind. And though all I wanted was to ask her to help me, when I left I’d promised my mother I’d take care of myself. If my body was a house she’d drawn by hand I didn’t want her to see how I’d scrawled every room red with shame. I’m still paying that bill now.

Kaylee Young-Eun Jeong is from Oregon and lives in New York. Her work appears in the Columbia Review, Diode Poetry Journal, and Maudlin House, among others. Find her on Instagram @youngeuhnn.