Yeonmi Park

by Ashley Tsai from Yorba Linda, California in United States

Living in Light

In a place where hunger means death

My father sold clogs, sugar, rice, and copper to feed us

For this crime he was sent to a labor camp

Where he was incinerated in the flames of famine

That gnawed his flesh and bones


Without Appa, we slept with hollow stomachs 

and dreamt of grilled trout swimming 

across fragrant clouds of white rice and banchan

Only to awake to grass soup and roots

And Eomma’s apologetic eyes


I sit upon the banks of the frozen Yalu River

For far away, there is light in this death-ridden night

Across the Yalu, and over three mountains, 

It is said the Chinese live in saffron electric light

And I wonder, if I trudge past the bullets through the darkness

Would I taste the light, for what is death to what I am living now?


I used to think our Dear Leader was starving too

And my heart broke for him

That even though he could change the weather with his thoughts

He, too, was eating grass soup and toiling for us

It was not until I lived in light that people told me 

Our Beloved Leader was not starving

No, he was fat

And I couldn’t believe my blindness 


I remember when I had been afraid to think

Knowing our Dear Leader could storm our minds 

And read our thoughts to see our misery as treason

And because I was afraid to think, I did not think

Only believe what I was told

And it was this believing that blinded me


For freedom is not free

It comes at the price 

of death and torment and revolution

But how can my people revolt 

when they do not realize they are chained?


I float in a sea of light

But the nightmares still reach me

I cannot forget what it cost me to come here

I cannot forget the sight of Eomma 

pounded into nothingness

By a monster of a man

By these traffickers who “freed” us

I cannot forget what they also did to me


But as I remember what it was like 

To drown in that black hole of death

I know still I am the lucky one

And that beyond three mountains 

And a frozen river, my people are still not free

And that is why, despite the shame I feel when I share my story,

I tell it, for it is only in the telling 

that those in darkness

Can live in light


Page created on 5/31/2022 9:32:22 PM

Last edited 6/2/2022 9:51:03 AM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.


Park, Yeonmi. What I Learned About Freedom After Escaping North Korea. [Online] Available


Author Info

When Ashley was little, she and her sister would pretend the rainwater in muddy holes were cauldrons, and that by adding leaves, feathers, and flowers, they could make Witch’s Brew. She likes holding mini-concerts in her shower and being a therapist to her friends. As for hobbies, when she isn’t practicing her golf swing, she is likely on Facetime calls with friends, strolling under the trees with “Billie Eilish” blasting in her Airpods, or pouring her emotions into the piano. She just finished crafting a book about a group of kids who save a park from being bulldozed that she will be selling to save trees and help kids. Her fondest wish is to be able to cook, juggle, and travel to all seven continents. Ashley hopes that in sharing her poem about Yeonmi Park, more young people will appreciate the sacrifices it took for us to savor freedom.