Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Sugar Cube
Thursday, November 12, 2020 | Ivetta Sunyoung Kang

still from Picture a music box in front of you


It was his routine to dissolve a distinctively large sugar cube in his morning coffee. Nothing else. Only routine. This morning, too, he picked one up. As he was about to put it in his mug, he somehow felt this particular cube was more solid than usual between his two fingers. But his focus shifted to the dominant sound in his room: the voice of a CBC Radio reporter creeping up from his phone. Her announcement of an incoming storm was audible, yet it did not get through to him. “What if she were warning me in Korean?” he asked himself out of habit while shaking his leg lightly under the table. Its legs mimicked his leg, starting to sway away from their original spot. The table was the first piece of furniture he bought on arrival in this country, so he used it for everything—dining, working, and calling his family, who live in a country whose culture was fading in him through distance and years. 

He had forgotten and un-comprehended words and sentences. It was an inevitable part of settling into a new place. Squeezed between two identities, he learned to accept his deficit in language to sustain himself in his new reality. Sometimes, though, he blamed his own culture and isolated himself from the outside world. Or he relied on hope for better days that weren’t yet coming. 

The news continued to emanate from his phone, but the reporter’s speech sounded broken and squashed to him. He could have claimed the sound of wind spiraling outside was muffling her voice as an excuse for his difficulty understanding. This time, however, he didn’t want to self-justify for no reason or every possible reason that accumulated over his past five years living in silence. Making every effort to allow the news to hatch in his ears, he placed the sugar cube on the tip of his tongue. Its white powder was scattered on his fingertips like the ruptures of the reporter’s perfect English.

He felt the cube’s surface get sandier as he tasted every corner of it with his tongue. The radio voice’s subtle utterances had already slipped outside of his grasp. The reporter was wishing everyone a safe evening, but not him. What he heard instead was an amplified mixture of her unintelligible tongue and the cube scraping between his teeth. These sounds never reconciled with one another in himself. 

While the windows jolted in the raging wind, his tongue was losing its comfortable coordination. His late morning coffee was getting cold anyway. The sugar cube, now half liquid, was not moving at all—it was stuck on his tongue. He saw this as a signal to use his imagination. He created a variety of movements with his tongue in an attempt to free himself from the cube. His tongue was given infinite impetus, yet it could not keep up with the choreography. It acted alone, as though detached from the rest of his body. He thought he might need to call 911, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to say a recognizable word. At the same time, he thought it might even be okay to lose his tongue—it was not his fault he was born incapable of utilizing it in the way they wanted. But he always ended up feeling like a loser.

The sugar cube had left an acrid taste in his mouth. Its sweetness became a delusion, yet he kept twisting and turning his tongue in search of it. Suddenly his tongue was paralyzed. “Have you ever doubted the presence of your own tongue?” he felt a growing desire for empathy. Alone, leaning on the wall, he looked outside the window. People were busy preparing for the storm in their cubic condos. The identical apartments formed an infinite horizon like a row of epitaphs, dividing one person’s differences from the others. He stopped clacking his teeth on the sugar cube. The space between his tongue and the cube was filled with his black hair, brown eyes, yellow wrinkles on his skin, and his tear. His tear did not have a color. The storm reached its climax, rattling the windows, and all the unused muscles in his mouth started to entangle around the sugar cube and his body. His apartment was dwindling to a smaller square like the boxes of sugar cubes that surrounded him. He let the sugar and his tongue merge as one cube of different kinds, and now he could speak.


The above text was written by Tiohtià:ke (Montreal) and Tkaronto (Toronto) based interdisciplinary artist, Ivetta Sunyoung Kang. The text is a narrative that serves as an extension to her virtual installation piece, Picture a music box in front of you. The installation (and the above text) engages with notions of aphasia but not in the clinical sense rather, as Kang describes it, as a metaphor for the mental and emotional weight of the "linguistic 'ableism'" marginal and Indigenous communities may encounter living in an increasingly globalized world with dominant 'global languages' such as English and French. 

Editorial Support by Sophia Larigakis