INDEPENDENCE DAY

It is Independence Day in Seoul
and I am sitting in my room
in the Ritz Carlton looking
out over closed shops, traffic
moving along the streets
watching CNN and AFKN.
The shops of Namdaemun
are closed, you can walk
the small alleys as vendors
hawk jeans with mis-sewn
Guess labels and T-shirts
from the University of Michigan.
Pietros is crowded
with Koreans waiting on plates
of spaghetti with clams
and shoyu sauce.
A group of police
in starched gray uniforms
nods as we pass, then stare
at thin plumes of black smoke
rising into charcoal clouds
northwest over Yonsei University,
they lift their riot shields
and long black batons
and briskly walk onto the bus
to quell the traitors
for whom unification
must be more than a dream.
Lotte World is silent
in the summer heat.

INCEPTION

Morning arrived as usual today
and we shook ourselves slowly
from sleep to greet it.
As we rose and drew open
the curtains and blinds
all that morning had to say,
and said rather imperiously
was “where is the coffee —
you can’t expect a damn thing
from me until I’ve had
at least two cups,
and brew them strong and black,
like the night I
chased off to get here.”

SUSHI

We sit around the Tatami table
thankful for the leg well
redemption for aging knees,
and socks without holes.
We drink the sake warm
and cold, and the Sapporo
from the oversized bottles
each pouring for the other
as a proper host must.
Several recall nights
on Roppongi, or earlier
on the Ginza, moments
lucid in drunken clarity.
One remembers a hostess
with endless legs
but little more,
although it still brings
a childlike smile.
Empty bottles
are quickly replaced
each at increased decibels
until the final uni
ends up on my plate
alongside the quail egg.
The night air
is unsteady
or is it merely
the sea urchin
exacting his revenge.

AN AFTERNOON SPENT

We sit around a small table
in the YAK Coffee and Beer
on the edge of Namdaemun
listening to loud pop songs
on tinny speakers.
The Hite Beer bottles sweat
dripping on the Formica table
down our backs
the dankness of the subway
clinging to us, bathed
in the smoke from the couples
hunched over coffee, giggling
conspirators plotting the overthrow
of ancient ideas, of hanboks
hung in closets, rice cookers
and kimchi ever present.
We walk past the pig’s heads
arrayed next to slowly rotting fish
and all manner of peppers
and breath deeply
of the bouquet of Seoul.

UNLOCKING

There are two keys to it, really
the first, and easier, is to make a well
with your hands, that would need be
not all that deep, just enough
to hold your thoughts as you work.
The second is to add just
the right amount, too little and
it is dry and doesn’t hold
together, too much and it will
refuse to obey your command.
Dust it well, and constantly
as you work, that is
the third key, but we don’t call it
a key, for there should
only be two keys to everything.
And finally, no matter how long
you think it will take, it will
never take that long,
always longer or shorter,
never that long, but
when you are done, you
must savor it while looking
for those thoughts you left
in the now transmuted well
of the making of your hands.