Poems by Anna Ruth

Two poems written in South Korea.

Train in the Wrong Direction

"Find a nice woman," my mother once said to me.
There are places, names, transatlantic letters home,
a life I know only from stories I heard as a child.
Mom in Austria, a teacher just like me.

Surely Mom, who was twenty-­three, too,
had been lost. Surely she'd been alone, doubting herself,
in a city that looked, smelled, tasted, and
felt new and liberating in the afternoon
over patbingsu and coffee on the street in June sun,
and terrifying in the nighttime subway station, dim,
full of moving bodies and still so empty.

"Find a woman," she said, "one with children. She'll help you."
I wonder when my mother felt desperately alone,
pit-­pat-­pang-­panic in her chest.
Who helped her? Maybe a woman, with
two boys wrapped around her knees, exhausted,
on the last express train of the night.
"Use my phone," she said. The littlest emptied his soda in her lap
and screamed.

I know that once my mother must have been,
before her years and miles of travel,
the lonely girl trapped, doors closing.
I know that before she was Jane who tosses advice at her daughter
she must have once been Jane on an airplane for the first time,
twenty-­three year old Jane in a blue dress,
straddle­-the-­world Jane,
Jane who was going the wrong way.

I wonder about the woman she sat beside and asked for help,
the woman who taught her to trust mothers with children.
“Find a nice woman,” she told me.
Those mothers, my mother,
both remind me that I should be wearing a sweater.
It gets cold at night, even in June.

Prayer of the Comfort Women

You held comfort, were comfort
took it as your name.
Comfort, clawed knives on screens
that are brittle and break.

But comfort is not sharp, does not shatter,
is not in this room of filth and hate.
This is not comfort, I do not feel good.
This is not comfort, I do not feel good.

Where is comfort? The women live in the mountains,
seven shades of purple, jagged peaked bone on lake,
where there is softness in the air
and they bathe in the gentle hands of seasons.

Find me, comfort, find me here.
Let’s go to the gentle, swaying, sagging days,
heavy with what is perfect
to me,
and let’s hold what is shining in our palms,
squeeze, touch, because it’s here now and might go.

I wrote this poem while living in Seoul, after a visit to the House of Sharing­­a home where Korean Comfort Women are taking refuge in their old age. Forced into prostitution by Japanese soldiers during World War II, these women have terrifying and heartbreaking stories.

About the Author

Anna Ruth

Anna Ruth comes from Harleysville, Pennsylvania, where she was born to an Italian Methodist mother and Swiss German Mennonite father. She was raised by a family of storytellers on the farm where her grandfather was born, deeply rooted in the rich local and ancestral Anabaptist tradition. Anna graduated from Goshen College in 2012 with a BA in English and a minor in visual art. Both of the poems included here were written in South Korea, where Anna spent a year teaching English while living and working with leaders of the young Korean Anabaptist church. Upon returning to the States, Anna began working for Haiku Learning, an educational technology software company, and moved west to Oregon, where she now lives on a sheep and goat farm.