He liked nothing more than slipping out the back of the Ritz Carlton and heading down Nonhyeon-ro, more alley than street, past the small bulgogi restaurant, and winding his way to Gangnam-daero 106, finally arriving on the great avenue, Gangnam-daero. It was buzzing with life at all hours, but in the early evening the Virgin Megastore was quieter. He’d slip in, ignoring the rock blaring on the first floor, the insane K-Pop on two and finally, passing through classical, arriving at the international section tucked away in a third floor corner. He’d rummage for Celtic CDs, certain he’d find things he never could get at home, for while Korea was so greatly influenced by America, Virgin, a good U.K. company, brought its CDs from England and sold them at surprisingly low prices. A bit of the ould sod in Korea, and hey, kimchi was once green right?
This poem was recently published in the first issue of a new journal, Punt Volat. You can find it here:
If Basho were here today,
in this America, at this time,
stop briefly and consider what
he might write, how he would
describe the faces of parents
mourning children gunned down
in random urban violence,
the asylum seeker, praying
at the border for entry, for hope,
the homeless woman curled
in a ball in her cardboard home
in an alley no one visits, no one
sees even in the full light of day,
the school children practicing
active shooter drills, while
learning to recite the alphabet.
sitting zazen, I
see one thousand cranes crying.
Their river bathes me.
Two men, having reached
an indeterminate age, sit on old chairs
outside the small town grocery, it’s
neon beer sign half, flickering, around
the corner from the bank on main street.
One, plaid shirt tucked in coveralls,
one bib strap unbuckled, leans back,
takes a turn on his long neck, his cane
propped against his leg, thankful for the rest.
The other, denim shirt bleached in spots,
threadbare in others, pours the remains
of a bag of potato chips into the plastic bowl
resting atop the empty 50 gallon drum that is
at this moment a table, later a platform
for the checkerboard both are not
drunk or bored enough to bring out.
He opens a beer on the edge of the drum
and both look up smiling at the clearing sky
and a Saturday afternoon in the
only America they have ever known.
He was quite tall for then, even
tall for now, and that hat must have
added almost a foot, a mortician
likely as not, if not a lawyer.
He wrote eloquently, even if his voice
was not quite of his stature, his words
always had impact, digging in the
gray and blue bled soil of Pennsylvania.
Today would be eleven score
and nineteen and I doubt the forefathers
would recognize the creation or want to.
7800 dead, 27,000 wounded, all watered
the Pennsylvania Farms with tears,
and today the soil has been given over
to stark down signs telling us
what they think we ought to know,
devoid of pain, devoid of impact.
Eleven score and nineteen
and we say to those knocking
at our door, “not now, we’re full,
there is no room at this inn
for the likes of you and yours.”
Cities should abut rivers. The better of them do, and the best still have rivers running through them. That is the nature of a great city, it allows you to look at a river from both of its banks, and still be in the heart of the city. In Europe, this is an expectation, it is how cities were born, how they grew, outward from their heart and soul. So no one is surprised when wandering a great city, say Prague, Paris, or Budapest, to find a river carving its way through. Cities abutting oceans can only look outward, the water seeming infinite, as though the part of the city that ought to be on the other side has been washed away. Oceans imprison cities, and carry their dreams off to drown.