National Poetry Month Day 35: “A Double Sestina on Happiness” by Cathy Park Hong

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A Double Sestina on Happiness

Part 1:

I should never be happy, the Samsung Chairman’s eldest daughter Eunhee thought
as she picked up a capsleeved dress in Seoul’s only Marni boutique, and paid
for the delicate frock with her much beloved Centurion card. Just then, she sensed a message
and his pale, drawn face flickered in her e-contacts: I miss you so, what if I were to propose
that we elope, live pennilessly? She messaged: My father is monitoring my SMs. I must argue
that you not contact me until I give word; then we can discuss my impending marriage.

It was an unwritten rule that Fortune 500 Chaebol families set up arranged marriages
between their offspring. After all, they were Seoul’s elite and no one thought
differently, not even those vile Netizens, and rare was the child who argued
to choose without family counsel. She was promised to the LG Chairman’s grandson who paid
little attention to her during the last family dinner and only hashed out proposals
with her ailing father about taking over Samsung Group’s Virtual Sense Messaging (VSM)

Division. Only once, the affianced couple dined alone and he spent it messaging,
staring distractedly into the middle distance. I will waste my life in a loveless marriage
with a vulgarian, as she watched him gnaw on his Osso Buco. Eunhee proposed
that they see the Braque prints at the Hyundai Gallery in Samchong-dong; critics thought
it smartly curated. Please, art is as dead as mobiles, he said and laughed while paying
for her untouched dinner, and she stopped herself from half-hearted argument.

In fact, that is how she met the impetuous and bespectacled Junho: from an argument.
Eunhee was a senior studying Art History at UC Irvine and she was messaging
her two sisters Eunsun and Eunam, who were also studying Art History at UC Irvine, tuition paid
for by their father of course, who admonished that their studies not interfere with marriages;
they should stick together and not fraternize with any unseemly students, when she thought
she felt a stare. She turned around to Junho, who noticing her de Kooning e-monograph, proposed—

rather impudently, wasn’t he aware of her status from his e-contacts?—why he proposed
that de Kooning was a sham Abstract Expressionist which ignited a not unpleasant argument
about the figurative body in de Kooning and all the while she couldn’t help but think
that he bore resemblance to Harry Potter, an observation she later, in breathless confession, messaged
to her sisters Eunsun and Eunam. Jun-ho and she conversed in flawless English (an unmarried
governess from Canada taught her English since she was toddler), and after Jun-ho paid

for their iced Lattes in exact change (hard currency, she observed, a quaint kind of payment
one does not see anymore), they continued talking excitedly and then he boldly proposed
they drive an hour away to LACMA, where they will gaze at actual paintings that married
the Abstract with the Figurative. A museum? I can access any image from my e-contacts, she argued.
But can you see the artist’s hand? he asked and in that instant, she wanted to throw away her SM,
her econtact lenses, and disconnect herself entirely; what has come over me, she thought.

*

Junho, majoring in Global Relations, with a minor in Studio Art, thought
that art humanized reality which he considered a counterfeit operating system paid
for by multinational industries. He has the most capricious manners, Eunhee messaged
her sisters, he will talk like this knowing about our family business and then he will propose
to me. I confess his moody passions excite me terribly. Both her sisters argued
for caution, although the youngest, Eunsun, who was more sympathetic, conspired how marriage

could work: He can be introduced as a friend and slowly gain Father’s approbation and marriage
could be foreseeable. But their speculations were in vain; their father was stubborn, they thought
secretly, and his liver disease has made him even more difficult. It is arguable
that illness could soften a man, but after a third liver was grown and did not take, he only paid
attention to his own pecuniary fate. He is the way he is, Eunsun proposed,
because he must ensure that his estate is invulnerable and then ended her SM.

It was her middle sister, the sullen Eunam, who betrayed her with a secret message
to her father who then swiftly terminated her studies and ordered her back to Seoul for marriage
to the LG Chairman’s grandson. The son was fifteen years her senior, and stiffly proposed
to her through SM with the hologrammed family as witness. She was inconsolable and thought
Eunam’s duplicity was all due to envy and that Eunam perversely delighted in seeing her pay
for her indiscretion. But Eunam, in her usual contrary and sullen manner, argued

that Junho, the son of struggling merchants, only had eyes on the family fortune and argued
that she was trying to protect her sister from harm. For now, she has refused all SMs
from Eunam who was always lacking; Eunam had twice the enhancements as Eunhee to pay
for her plain countenance and even with facial and height enhancements, marriage
was still a challenge since Eunam’s manners were so disagreeable, Eunhee thought
uncharitably. But then, she slowly began to miss her sister and proposed

to Eunam that all was forgiven. She did not have energy for ire, and after her proposal
to reconnect, the sisters hugged and sobbed, and vehemently promised never to argue.
But Eunhee still felt a wretchedness of mind; she spent every waking hour thinking
about Junho and their dates where they would do things. Now she couldn’t even SM
him, let alone meet him for a fro-yo or a late night study session. Her dreaded marriage
to that supercilious grandson was a week away and she was stranded in Seoul, paying

for her indiscretion. She was feeling drastic; Junho urged her to blink off her econtacts and pay
attention to the material world but she was resistant. If only for a day, he proposed,
you must see this world; you will find it like de Kooning, a world that marries
beauty with brutishness, a world without scruples. She blinked off her econtacts, arguing
to herself that it will give her raw freedom, and saw not a world scrolled with saved SMs
from Junho, live streams of fashion chats, instant films, and bright daily thoughts

from starlets. But nor did she think it matched Junho’s perilous and alluring proposals.
Only snow, piling into higher drifts until she only saw grey. Is this how I’m paid, she argued
with Junho. Have you tricked me? She shut her eyes. Reader, she married.

Cathy Park Hong

If you like what the Rumpus is doing for National Poetry Month, you’ll probably like this multimedia anthology of original poems we’ve run at The Rumpus over the last three years. Available only for iPad. Check it out!


Original poetry published by The Rumpus. More from this author →