Poet of the Month- Melissa Houghton

Melissa Houghton, face image

Melissa Houghton

Click each title to hear Melissa Houghton read her poem.

Gratitude Ingrained

Gratitude Ingrained

She had me in Dae Gu
But I arrived in Seoul
That’s where I met my omah
Who let me speak with apah
But all I could say was kamsahamnida
to apah,
Who knew the words
Ob-la-di Ob-la-da and cried
Eric Clapton’s
Tears in Heaven.
And for all I know,
He probably even kept them.

Jarred with red kimchi
And peppers.
My mother warned
The seeds were hot,
But I did not listen—
She did not think me loyal.
I stuffed some rice inside a leaf,
Chewing through the heat,
I whispered mashitsoyo.

My Trip To Korea

The Land of the Morning Calm.
Tourists filled the busy markets
with imported plastic.
The picture framed by the plane’s window.
Korea must be floating.


Two blooming Buddhist Temples, two L-shaped
palms and fingers, poised to make a makeshift frame.

I see pea-sized beads, strung into bracelets,
nested in baskets, wooden and one-size-fits-all.

I toss in a dirty version of their penny; peppered,
orange koi appear, rippling through concentric patterns.

The river washes the coin. The river cleans the earth.
We contaminate the river with our idea of wishes.

Mr. Chae, or Fred (after Friedrich Engels), my co-teacher
and guide, sees no contradiction in Catholic Buddhism.

50 times we go through the positions. Not spectacles,
testicles, wallet, watch, not Denise Austin Pilates either.

My shoulders and neck ache the next day. Still I give insa
to the principal, bending at the waist to the Confucian Hierarchy.

My friend Azure once flung an impromptu Karate chop at me,
“Namaste, Bitch!” The god in me honors the god in you?

I fall asleep easily on pillows I am used to. Drifting
down, my birth father appears, smoking Marlboros like my

dad did before he was hypnotized. Each vision a splash,
each thought a ripple, moving mouths swim up in search of food.

My friend asks me: did you have a good time at the temple stay?
I didn’t. Who can sit and meditate for fifteen minutes?

Through Fred’s translations, the monk evaded my inquiries,
especially when asking him the one taboo question: why did you

become a monk? Nearly the only American there, puzzling
over random words from conversation: migook saram, creo?

I ponder the self. Very Zen.Very Tao-te-Ching. Very ISFP.
Then something takes root: a tree with sharp cut blossoms.

I see each person write their wish on a strip of paper,
leaving it tied to a branch of the tree.

Melissa Houghton, in her own words

As a Korean-adoptee who grew up bored in literally a “one-horse” town (his name was Lightning, cliché, I know) in Northeast South Dakota, I spent much of my childhood figuring out how to make something out of nothing. I visited my motherland through a Korean Fulbright Teaching Grant in 2004, and received my M.F.A. in Poetry at Oregon State University in 2008. Currently, I’m an English Instructor at St. Cloud Community and Technical College in Minnesota. Something of a “jack-of-many” trades, I”m drawn to the new, novel, and unique. I enjoy staring off into space, large cozy rocks, pear-flavored jelly bellies, and anything artsy (piano, painting, poetry, letterpress). I hope one day to invent the American version of the Chinese finger trap.

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