Bell Theory, by Emily Jungmin Yoon

Image of the poet Emily Jungmin Yoon.

Bell Theory


When I was laughed at for my clumsy English, I touched my throat.

Which said ear when my ear said year and year after year

I pronounced a new thing wrong and other throats laughed.

Elevator. Library. Vibrating bells in their mouths.


How to say azalea. How to say forsythia.

Say instead golden bells. Say I’m in ESL. In French class

a boy whose last name is Kring called me belle.

Called me by my Korean name, pronouncing it wrong.

Called it loudly, called attention to my alien.


(I touched the globe moving in my throat, a hemisphere sinking.)


Called me across the field lined with golden bells.

I wanted to run and be loved at the same time. By Kring.

As in ring of people. Where are you going? We’re laughing with you.


The bell in our throat that rings with laughter is called uvula. From uva: grape.

A theory: special to our species, this grape-bell has to do with speech.

Which separates us from animals. Kring looked at me and said

Just curious, do you eat dogs? and I wanted to end my small life.

Be reborn a golden retriever of North America.

Lie on a field lined with golden bells, loved.


Today, in a country where dogs are more cherished

than a foreign child, an Oregon Senate candidate says no

to refugees. Says, years ago, Vietnamese refugees ate dogs,

harvested other people’s pets. Harvest as in harvest grapes.

Harvest as in harvest a field of golden rice. As do people

from rice countries. As in people-eat-dog worlds.


Years ago, 1923 Japan, the phrase jūgoen gojissen was used

to set apart Koreans: say 15 yen 50 sen. The colonized who used the chaos

of the Kanto Earthquake to poison waters, set fire: a cruelty special to our species.

A cruelty special to our species — how to say jūgo, how to say gojit,

how jūgo sounds like die in Korean, how gojit sounds like lie —

lie, lie, library, azalea, library.


I’m going to the library, I lied, years ago, on a field lined with forsythia.