Familiar Words

1. “Saranghae,” I said, two days before she left me
for someone who had yet to tell her that she is beautiful.
I remember the clearness of her voice when she told me to eejubuhryeo
and so I have already forgotten what her gasps sounded like
when I stroked the back of her right knee, or how her skin blended
with mine. I have forgotten that I didn’t know her at all.

2. “I love you,” I said to the freckles that dotted the back
of her neck while she breathed in long sighs. I waited an hour
for an answer, even as she slept, and played with the fire
that flowed down her back and spread to the sheets. The flames licked
the hairs on my hands with hardly a mark. When she didn’t reply, I fell
off the bed as quietly as I could and left.

3. “Te amo,” I said, then asked if I was supposed to say
te quiero instead. She laughed, as her fingers wrapped around mine
like warm caramel and told me that I need not
worry. I was su coreano. A month or two passed. I told her
I still didn’t understand the difference between love
and love and she said she didn’t either.

4. When she said she loved me, the familiar words fell on my lips,
but my tongue struggled to sort the syllables.