RIVERSIDE

The great bronze kings
of the Chosun Dynasty
look down from Mount Namsan
over the city, valleys
of small homes, neatly
tiled roofs over
ramshackle walls,
with small gardens
clustered atop
amid clothes drying racks
and cars careening
along narrow streets.
The old woman
wraps the pink towel
around on her scalp
like some garish bun
and lifts the packages
carefully bound
balanced on her head
and trudges slowly down
the cobbled street
to Namdaemun market.
In It’aewon, the man
bent, creaking, lifts
the handle of the old cart
and begins a slow shuffle
up the alley straining
against time and gravity.
They look down from
the mountain at the
great South Gate
and their hanboks
weigh heavier
with the fall of night
while the Han
flows on uncaring.

A MONK IN MEDITATION 鐵笛倒吹 七十語

A man may own
may volumes of great knowledge
and never have time to read.
An illiterate may take such books
and fashion a stool
on which to sit in meditation.

Which of these is truly wise
which the greatest fool.
Wipe your mouth
with this page
at the conclusion
of the meal.


A reflection on Case 75 of the Iron Flute.

LATE NIGHT, RITZ CARLTON, SEOUL

A seemingly endless stream
of young Thai men pour
out of room 314
like so many clowns
tumbling out of a miniature
Volkswagen Beetle in the center ring.
They laugh, chattering, lacking
only oversized shoes
to complete the image.
They stand by the elevator
in a contagion of giggles.
After half an hour
they return, toting
cases of Hite and Cass
armed and ready
for another night
dreaming of Bangkok.

GONE

The salmon people
don’t live here anymore
you have moved them
up the river, then inland
so they no longer need to wander.

The salmon
do not swim here anymore
you have dammed the rivers
to draw out their power
and penned the mighty fish
where the river first licks the sea.

The eagle doesn’t
fly here anymore
the great pines
that sat for generations
below his aerie are now
cut into neat supports
on which we hang our walls.

Our children
do not run here anymore
they have moved
to the cities, have gone off
to wars for fighting
is the only job
which they are given.

We have no rivers
we have no salmon
we have no sons, save those
who sleep under neat white stones.
We look for the eagle
a mighty spirit
but he, too, has been claimed
by the others
to decorate their buildings.
We have only our spirit
to guide us and we know
that soon you will claim them too
and leave us as you arrived
to repeat the sad story.

SATORI

The empty wine bottle
nestling the foot
of the postal box
wants nothing more
that to speak its mind
but it is forsworn
to silence, and stares
into the old Maytag box
tucked in the alley
next to the dumpster.
The bedraggled man
sits against the wall
and debates the meaning
of knowledge with
the Buddha lying
in a fetal ball
on the soggy asphalt.

FIFTY-EIGHT MINUTES, MORE OR LESS

In a bit less
than an hour
a new exhibit
will open
empty space will
be occupied
with moving
bodies of artist
and viewer,
universes will form
a thousand children
will be born
an old man in
a distant city
will slip away
a contented look
pressed into
his face
world leaders
will ask why
and have
no answers,
but all of that
is not now,
but in a bit
less than
an hour.