cover image The Symmetry of Fish

The Symmetry of Fish

Su Cho. Penguin, $18 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-14-313725-2

The vivid, folkloric debut from Cho recounts her experience growing up in a Korean immigrant family in Indiana. Advice from her mother is stamped with striking imagery, as in the opening lines of the title poem: “The head of the fish thuds/ into the kitchen sink// with a splash of lettuced water./ She says, Not this. Don’t// marry the head or anyone/ too cunning.” In “Hello, My Parents Don’t Speak English Well, How Can I Help You,” Cho captures the complexity of being an immigrant child, feeling both ashamed and angry about that shame: “Once I called her stupid for/ Packing my field trip lunch with/ Quick sesame rice balls even though that’s what I/ Requested.... The truth is, I hated my friends/ Upset over the sesame smell.” The lessons and culinary efforts of women—mothers, grandmothers, ancestors—is a running theme, taking on a surreal tone in “A Little Cheonyeo Gwishin Appears in My Kitchen,” in which Cho cooks with a chaotic spirit from Korean lore: “She opens/ the tofu, smashes/ the watery curd with her/ foot, and soaks// a package of dried kelp/ in the trash.” Infused with bittersweet nostalgia, Cho’s arresting work captures the full emotional spectrum in poems that are sometimes charming, sometimes haunting, but always memorable. (Oct)