Dear Estranger
Matthew Salesses

Dear Estranger,

I think you told me about this temple once, but I can’t be sure because you didn’t want to tell the story, you wanted to unload it. This temple is something I never thought I would cherish–tradition amidst progress. The past is full of demons, but if Korea has taught me anything it is that some demons are not devils. I always wanted you to be a good demon. Maybe that was a wish left over from when you were not my father but my “father,” when you existed only in my imagination, in the guesswork behind what I saw in the mirror. In this temple where the tourists–like me–have overtaken the monks, imagination is the attraction. Everywhere people try to guess what was here from what is here. I too was idealizing my past until an ajumma spoke at me casually. At first I thought I had done it, I had become Korean, I had finally gotten past you to the past you had already lost when you had me. But when I said nothing, because I could not understand her, she guessed more closely, and touched my nose–not tenderly, like an accusation. That is my mother’s nose. Before that moment I had never wanted to get rid of my mother, I thought I was here to get rid of you. Then I remembered what the monks would have done to me centuries ago, when they owned this place with their fierce faith, the demonic guesswork of purity, and I wanted to burn the place to the ground. Not in real life, though, in the imagination. In real life the temple is a painted egg: the preservation is really spectacle. One of the few things I remember about my mother: she sucked the egg out of those Easter eggs with a religious reproach.

Your son

Matthew Salesses was born in Korea. He is the author of The Hundred-Year Flood and I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying. Two books are forthcoming: Own Story (essays, 2017) and The Murder of the Doppelganger (a novel, 2018).