On our first visit to Prague
it was almost hard to imagine that this bridge
was built to ferry people and traffic across the River.
Now it is jammed with tourists and those
for whom tourists are a ubiquitous market,
and anyone needing to expeditiously cross
the cranky water that every now and again must
indulge the bridge, or use the less interesting bridges adjacent.
There is a veneer of age about this ancient
the statuary darkened by time and weather
replaced when the waters get truly petulant
and carry off statues they deem an affront.
Motion on the bridge is slow and can tend
toward gridlock, to the joy of those
selling art and tchotchkes, and tchotchke arts
that won’t be truly regretted by the buyer until
it is hung on the wall next to the waterglobe
miniatures of St. Matthias church and
the parliament buildings Budapest.
It is stall after stall
of tomates de Provence, choux
wishing to be kale, peches, small
and barely containing their juice.
Courgettes beckon, pommes de terre
call out their aerieal cousins, haricots
quietly suggest a citron aussi.
Walking along the boulevard
a tourist obviously,
without bags or cart,
I get polite nods that say
me ignoring you isn’t personal
it’s merely financial, pardonnez-moi.
Tonight in my dreams, I will
with flash of Wusthoff, be in my kitchen
pulling my morning’s purchases from my bag,
the meal coming together before me,
to the amazement of my wife and friends.
“It’s nothing,” I will say, “juste le matin
dans la marché de Nice,
pour vous, simplement.
Namdaeman is a ghetto of shops
and stalls, where men squat
cupping cigarettes and gesture,
their hands grasping stacks of bills,
rocking on their heels until they
leap up to a patron, asking this price
or that, assessing the will
of the buyer by the thickness
of his or her wallet. An old woman
sits on her pack frame, gumming
kimchi from a small metal bowl,
as two wheeled pack mules
sputter and weave by, casting
faint blue clouds. Here, where
the alley narrows so that a bicycle
cannot find passage unless
all standing about inhale, where
trays of flounder and eels lie
amid slowly melting ice,
where pigs heads, boiled, stare
at the sky in fascination,
as their cawls lie in a box below.
Here a man sits and grinds dried peppers,
his neighbor throwing rotting leaves
of lettuce to the ground
and arranging the trays
of fungi and ginseng. Half
of this city walks slowly by, staring
at leather jackets, jeans, sweaters
and brass pots, Celadon and a sea
of shoes crying for their mates
in the frottage of commerce.
On the street of brides,
a wide avenue of transfixed
cars and buses, a cacophony
of horns, school girls stare
into a sea of windows
and imagine themselves
in the gowns of lace and beads,
their faces the porcelain
of the dolls of their childhood,
fearing the rupture of their youth.
The Buddhist priest
in golden robes
rocks gently to and fro,
chanting from the prayer cards
over the din of the flea market
swirling around him,
The faithful stand
with heads bowed,
as the stone Buddha
draped in red and gold
nods his approval
Little old woman
sits cross legged
on a faded cushion.
She nods as we enter
and touch the ancient chest.
She rocks slowly in place,
older than the ancient
guarding her doorway.
In the narrow, dingy hall
giant pots nestle against
A fat Buddha smiles
at a rice paper covered screen.
carefully cast and carved
sits on a small shelf
amid Hyundai head gaskets.
“Cast iron tea pot,
very old, very old
top quality, for you
only 350,000 won –
you pay cash