Litany for the Long Moment
by Mary Kim Arnold
Paperback, 115 pages
Q 1. WHO ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
What does it feel like to wonder— where did I come from?
In her arresting new work, Mary-Kim Arnold [Kim Mi Jin] asks this very question. Winner of the 2016 Essay Press Prize, Litany for the Long Moment is the heartbreaking story of an orphan’s “release” from her home country of Korea to the United States. Arnold’s book surrounds her tumultuous investigation into cultural identity. On this journey, the reader is utterly absorbed— haunted by the past, uneasy with the present, and perpetrated by the future.
While Arnold has written fiction, poetry and prose, this most dynamic new work is set in lyric fragments. This prose poem exhibits the presence of narrative voice, while utilizing perfectly the small blank spaces that poetics allow. Her moments linger with self doubt and contemplation. The use of repetition is an effective tool to illustrate the greatest reduction, that there are no answers, only questions.
The connection that Arnold so deeply needs lost, she returns to her homeland for an extraordinary tour, together with other Korean adoptees. Arnold is then finally able to confront the nuances of a society that she never experienced first hand, her house built on little cultural foundation, including a language built by a king and spoken by the people. Threads of a child with no language permeate though the work. How can one begin to communicate, if one has no language?
Detached, Arnold’s living memory fragments are coupled with silence, heartache. The stillness of the unknown is pierced only with the guilt that Arnold lived in trying the retrace her steps in the first place. Her own American mother lived also with a mixed reaction and a deep sense of longing: Aren’t I enough for you?
Visually breathtaking, Litany for the Long Moment experiments with the presentation of original documents, the photographs of her toddler self one step away from a mother she would never know. The pieces remain broken: notes never taken, files never kept, a lifetime of Korean tradition never measured, and a litany of indeed—very long moments.
Through Arnold’s perspective, the light cracks through. We learn of motherhood and of honour, and of Mary Kim’s position in a time unknown. She now takes her place amongst documentarians in cultural advocacy, and memoirists not scared to search amongst lands with no answers.
She tells me the information is useless; untraceable.
About Mary Kim Arnold
Mary-Kim Arnold’s Litany for the Long Moment was awarded the 2016 Essay Press Open Book Prize and was a finalist for the 2018 Chautauqua Janus Prize. She co-edited the anthology, Mixed Korean: Our Stories. A multidisciplinary artist and writer, her work has appeared in a number of literary and art journals, including The Georgia Review, Hyperallergic, and The Rumpus, where she serves on the Advisory Committee. The recipient of fellowships from the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, she holds graduate degrees from Vermont College of Fine Arts and Brown University, where she teaches Nonfiction Writing Program. She was born in Seoul, South Korea and lives in Rhode Island.