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.

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.

SEOUL: A TALE OF TWO CITIES

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.