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엄마 grew up by the water 

where her 아빠 was a fisherman              who left the house well before the rising sun

              was gone for most of the day


As evening drew close and the sun began to set,

엄마 would make her way over to the water and wait.

                                                                                                                    She’d wait on the seashore,

                                                          waiting for his boat to slowly                              appear above the horizon                                                                                                           make its way over to her.


                                            As she waited, she’d try to catch crabs

                the small white ones that would scurry over her feet            then disappear                       teasing her

    appearing and reappearing                                    over and over again.


                                Decades later     as 엄마 lay        waiting in the hospital


                                                                             I waited for her.


The doctors told me all about malignant growth

a tumour resulting from an uncontrolled                             division of cells.


                                                         But to me, it was an evil

                                                         hard to contain                                                 eradicate.


               The disease clung onto her             clenched jaws      clawing away at her body

                                           repeatedly                                            repeatedly                                            repeatedly


                               I recently learned that the word “cancer”

                               comes from Latin for ‘crab or creeping ulcer’


                karkinos              from Greek

                              said to have been applied to such tumours

                                            because the swollen veins around them

                                                            resembled the limbs of a crab.


                                                                              I waited


                                   and just as soon as the crabs would disappear

                                                                                                                     they’d appear again.


*** The italicized phrases in this poem are dictionary definitions of the word “cancer.” ***

Born in Korea and raised in East Africa, Melanie Hyo-In Han recently moved from the U.S. to the U.K., where she is a Ph.D. researcher, teacher, and Co-Editor-in-Chief of Flora Fiction. She is the author of Sandpaper Tongue, Parchment Lips (Finishing Line Press, 2021) and the translator of several collections of Spanish poetry (Hebel Ediciones). Nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Han has received awards from "Boston in 100 Words," Valiant Scribe, The Lyric Magazine, and elsewhere. She holds an M.F.A. in Poetry and Translation, an M.Ed. in Secondary English and Spanish, and a B.A. in English, Spanish, and Linguistics. Learn more about her at

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