ALTERNATE HISTORY

My mother wanted to tell me
of my great-grandmother,
a woman she barely knew,
but who she imagined more fully
that life itself
would ever have allowed.
History, in her hands
was malleable, you could
shape it in ways never happened.
She wanted to tell me
but she knew that
her grandmother wouldn’t approve
of adopting when your womb
was perfectly serviceable,
certainly not for a man
more than a decade older
who could not uphold
his most sacred obligation.
She wanted to tell me,
but I am adopted
and this woman can be
no more than a story
of passing relevance to me.

IS THERE AN ECHO IN HERE?

He said to her, “you know
it really irritates me how you
always seem to repeat yourself.
Say it once and that’s enough.”
She paused, thought about his comment,
then said, “You know, despite
what you say, I don’t, I
don’t really, but nuance
is something that always seems
just beyond your comprehension.”
He bristled, “You could be more
subtle, you know, perhaps
it is always on the thin edge
of my comprehension, but gets
pushed way by the repetitive
battering you feel the need
to impart, over and over.”
She smiled, “I doubt it,
I truly and sincerely doubt it.”

INTO THE DESERT

His is six and deeply confused,
and asks questions to end that state.
He wants to know if Adam and Eve
had two sons, and one killed the other,
where did all of the people come from?
Ask your father seems and easy answer,
but one he cannot accept, too easy
for a mind that needs timely response.
I stumble around, try to deflect,
and finally admit I don’t know but
that some stories cannot be taken literally.
He knows what that word means, and it
is a sufficient explanation for now.
In a week we’ll have the conversation
once again, this time not Adam, not Eve,
but Shem, Ham and Japheth, and how
the three sons of Noah repopulated
the entire planet, and I will once again
admit to my sad lack of knowledge,
and silently curse the Religious School
for creating the abyss into which
my grandson is all to pleased to lead me.

AFTER

He sits still
demanding your attention.
He stares at you with green eyes
and a defiant look, saying
you are a visitor here,
this is our world
so do not abuse your privilege
of sharing this space with us.
We were here long
before you arrived
and our kind will
be here long after
you depart, although
we do not comprehend
why you always seem
to want to rush
yourself headlong
into extinction.

ARRIGATO, GAZAIMUS

The old man walks slowly
through the opulent lobby
the light of the triple chandeliers
refracted into a thousand spectra
that dance on mirrored walls.
The guard gently touches his elbow
steering him as though he is blind
drunk, while the bellman walks
a step behind, like Charlton Heston
through an invisible sea.
The man wears a shabby sport coat
that was a ghastly green
on the day it was sold
years ago, his sneakers
are from different pairs, linked
only by their once whiteness.
The bellman dashes in front
of the pair, raising his arm
to part the sea of glass encasing
the lobby in a constant chill
from the July furnace of Tokyo.
They exit, pause, a hundred
feet from the doors, and bow gently
one to each other, so many chickens
pecking over seeds of civility.
The guard stands by the door
watching intently as the man
retreats to the welcoming  streets.

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.