This week has been a hive of activity: jotting down themes & sponging of my inadequate brain stem, hoping to brachiate from a germ to the tipsiest tip of the topmost canopy. I have taken the uncommon introspection of my self, that which makes me laugh, my own actions, that which has happened to me & thread them into a series of poems, mangled & jagged in their free verse form. I have chosen this form because I love its use in Robert Lowell’s ‘Life Studies’, moreover, when you have the limit of a week & annex to this 29 years of having never written a single conscious word about yourself, vers libre seems a sensible form to take.
Not all of these poems will be good in your individual opinions, but I have discovered from a friend that the audience is incidental in art, that is what we enjoy about it. To concern yourself with pleasing everyone doesn’t seem to be the purpose: if you write truthfully & the writing has some value, it will root out an audience by the volition of its substance. This is to give art a form of consciousness, I am comfortable with that. But that is not a predetermined excuse for the evasion of criticism, I would welcome a learning process from this hallowed ground which I do not yet feel comfortable invading with my lumpy steps. The first leap of faith has been made, I have overcome my abhorrence of the use of a pronoun, ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’ & ‘me’ are valuable now, as I become ever more determined to probe my valuable assessments of life. I am not ignorant, this has been championed innumerable times, however, if it is not felt directly then it cannot be of any validity to a person; I have made my peace with this method as T.S. Eliot made peace with his past criticisms of Whitman.
Without further ado, ‘Week’:
With time to kill that which I must kill,
I decide to butcher the hours and minutes
& a self-imposed quest to find.
I wander aimlessly from A to B…
I find each letter much the same;-
watching: always dimensional,
we’re at no disadvantage then.
Sun feeds the dramas of this wintry Saturday
: a plump girl much devoted
straddles her lover’s back,
it would look good in black & white,
cue a dove, white as rice, I kid you not,
passing behind them, beyond their sight,
& understand the depth of the coincidence.
Beside a placid stream this happens to the world,
I above, elbows against the railings of a bridge,
adjoining east with west.
They must configure thoughts,
evolve, inch by inch, plan,
divert themselves down different paths-
they have every right, to the Idealists.
Their devotion feeds me well, I think
: it teaches me a seldom way
: if I were more like them I’d be a firmer man.
More… much more besides is going on,
but yet i’m ill-informed for observation-
if only I were Atlas eyed.
I hope a vicissitude as I stroll away,
dove & lovers punctured in my thought
as I alight the train- a Confessional ponder.
The Soldiers Outside the KTX Terminal
Their boots do not make chunky sounds
on the tarmac,
futile to trust their camouflage
they are exposed;
their smiles aren’t dreadful, even duteous
they cannot be.
Happy to consume
I don’t lay blame-
their blistered feet must be consoled
& if offering gifts to lovers
consoles then give away chaps
& have them blisters fussed about.
The Act of Seeing
I saw today
I saw the happy ancestors of a volcanic belch
I saw a salty seasoned west wind lift the litter of winter and toss it about
I saw a bare tree in a cylindrical cage
I saw cars parked like the progress of man
I saw an old book, helpful & broken
I saw scoria & granite in the service of man
I saw objections to petty debates
I saw no questions asked again & again
I saw signposts that no one will read
I saw islands grown out of the weeds of the sea
I saw wedding bells clang in the eyes of young women
I saw toupees fly free of old heads
I saw science obscuring the view of tea fields
I saw rusted machinery far beyond repair, fish heads & news
I saw Confucian inhibitions, porn stars & a lighthouse
I saw a surplus of people without much to do
I saw numerous bored faces with babes in their arms
I saw nobody thinking
I saw most people fretting
I saw soft features salvage their hard shadow
I saw flames make an alphabet
I saw discarded boxes, hounds & skin cream
I saw people breathe conditioned air beside logs shaped like prisms
I saw a corpulent man sip health drinks whilst he waits for the train
I saw ancient place names used by a business for profit
I saw ancestral idols in Santa Claus costume
I saw an old temple buckle midst a cluster of homes
I saw stray dogs at play on the beach in the morning
I saw old & young alike consider the sea
I saw shampoo attempt to lather the spoils of the sea
I saw a young child come out of a chemist
I saw mackerel, abalone, octopus & bream in a tank prepared for lunch
I saw seagulls hover above the wake of our boat as we sailed to a lonely isle
I saw a ship in repair as I sailed after Delos
I saw the sun form a path on the sea to the land
I saw a one track mind disagree with a crossroads
I saw the wonder of life as the consequence of man
I saw from afar what I’d only known up close
I saw green plants sprout in the cracks of black rock stretching away from the land
I saw clumps of spongy seaweed that slurped my feet
I saw an isle populace of black sea birds waiting for fish to leap the folds of the sea
I saw rubbish bash the fringe of a beautiful place
I saw wondrous patterns of grime in toilet bowls
I saw a lost sandal tangled in tendrils of seaweed
I saw abstract stone sculptures in the image of ghosts
I saw between two mirrors in an elevator going up my own infinitude
I saw our blindness when two perfumed girls ignored the mirror
Philip Larkin’s Stroll
Since seeing Philip Larkin in an old
BBC video, I have promised
to write what I do
& to write what I see.
For Larkin whilst ambling around an old church
in Hull, compelled me with
the indeeds of his qualities
: “bald, uninformed” he said
& I associate with all of that;
he wrote prolific though
: documenting his sightings and attempts to understand.
The Pilots of the Sand
My black furred pointer, white chested,
two male, one brown & one white, jindos;
scruffy strays & already chums,
in natural playfulness chase one another
along the wind rippled white sand
pouncing, paws up, evasive like spitfires-
manoeuvring circles only they see, fake bites,
hinds scud, topple torsos, gambolling
into a trot & repeat-
(they sniff her maturity & find it lacking,
she’ll just be a chum)
sudden push ahead to the foamy shore,
placid beyond the splash of the tidal humpf
as fast as their four legs will carry them
: could be an advertisement for equality.
I rose early, before the sun,
slipped on my dirty work jeans
in poor light,
pulled on my paint mottled granddad-shirt-
green with white freckles-
ate steamed rice, kimchi, a spoonful or two of soup;
then fed the dog & sat with her awhile,
stroking her cold fur
& waited for the sun to bob up, buoy of the day,
it came, from behind the mountain,
same old sun.
Waiting for the boat,
with nothing but the island breeze
& brochure view to keep me entertained-
I won’t sit in the piss-stained waiting room,
so take a nap on the sea wall.
I don’t dream,
though lullaby ocean shushes
against the islands scoria .torso.
I wake, two curious local girls,
intrepidly inch closer to gawp
at my bearded face, my round brown eyes
& fatter nose.
There is a TV in the sea, bashing against the rocks,
(my wife explains it came from a Chinese ship)
I flick through the channels, but nothing on as usual.
The sun comes out
everyone sighs with noticeable relief.
The froth of the waves
like a good heady beer
makes me want to dive in
How It Works
The thud of the rain on the truck
can transpose itself to something else
: a boxer’s jaw, butter fingers,
an angered door, bang whollop,
it’s more than onomatopoeia,
you could go on
: it makes us quite exceptional,
that is the matter of us
– we mimic we do;
our cargo may not be a goddess,
more tangible, flesh & bone-
these days I have so much reality
it often makes my seeing seem illusory.
Oranges Oranges Everywhere
Oranges, oranges, everywhere
– where I live there are more orange trees
than lines of Shakespeare’s verse.
I read in them a like
amount of fortitude & worthiness;
but there’s no vitamin C in poetry.
However, tonight I’ll read the bard,
not eat or think of orange trees.
A twang of tired unbuttons me,
I want my conscience
but the labours of the day
are stealing content
ripening the stiffness of my limbs
for lying down and dozing;
I will give up soon to zzzzzz’s.
Samdasoo spring water
The outdoor tap
a stone’s throw from our house
supplies us with crisp spring water.
Each morning before the farmer starts his day-
two plastic bottles up to task
I fill to the brim
-he doesn’t appreciate my theft,
but I must boil my bean soup with shepherd’s purse
using only that clear draught,
my bones & skin will tolerate the weather well if so;
the water makes my tea a deeper amber shade.
I note the lemons on the table, firm in form,
they deserve a mention.
I always fear
I will be late
: I dream this worry too
– I’ll try to be late today,
but I’m already here.
Cartons of black bean soy milk
beside steamed fruit cake, Japanese style
on top of Joyce’s Ulysses face down
beside a bunch of canola flowers in a jam jar
in front of a magnolia candle
behind which are white mugs filled with stationary
beside which are tiny vials of oils and anti-wrinkle cream
on top of Korean poetry books I vaguely understand
60W light-bulbs, strawberry jam, vitamin supplements, a lamp
& plastic containers bursting with stinky cabbage & green onion kimchi
wet wipes, chewing gum, napkins & honey roast peanuts
scattered about my table.
The Mermaids with Feet
The mermaids of Jeju: Haenyo
– I spotted, tied to red buoys & nets they use for baskets,
diving like mallards, beneath the inky crests,
rummaging for sea snails in conch shells,
abalone & bright sea-cucumber, living among the soft coral.
They are local icons: murals find walls to honour their role
– they are a mystery to me I do not want to solve
: in their black rubber diving suits, snorkel mask, flippers,
they dissolve in the mist that hugs the sea & shore;
the choppy sea to their benefit,
budges their prey toward the craggy shore.
I always point when I spot them,
they are as rare as Hoopoes.
A line of fishing boats- pearls on string,
dogs tied to a stretch of wall-
anchored at harbour
: we’re all devoted to a tiresome thing
we cannot help abhor.
I wish I was more honest,
not being schooled in sincerity,
embarrassed by the stock
of clichés composing the tempo of feel:
“confess!” cry Lowell & Roethke,
“confess! It’ll smarten your thinking up.”
I can’t quite put my finger on the pulse
of what it is about the coast
that causes thinking calm,
almost indifferent: I’m sure
how the sea, inimitably sculpts
the sea-birds’ chiaroscuro
much raw & sopping brine,
the weather’s charm no matter its conduct;
how clutter seems acceptable to everything;
the huddling rust at the lighthouse foot-
here monuments are aged by elements
rather than over-use-
cursed with this mystery
I sprout these vines of weedy thoughts,
& haggle with the reeds or birds for mantelpiece scoria.
Little felix domesticus is dead in the road,
stiff, sodden in dew, guts sprayed Pollack-like-
nine lives are spent
but spent well I cannot tell from the red tongue
lolling out its mouth.
Should ever I have nine lives
I doubt I’d take more risks
: the pain of death nine times
I think not worth the agony-
after the second time, cocooned
and cautious, always looking behind my back
I’d hope a close to all my worrying.
A flock of birds strung across the sky like a snake
navigates the cumulus- I have been warned.
Plenty of Work to Crack on with
Plenty of work to crack on with
& after teaching brats their ABC
I’m eager to use my hands again,
to jeer at the wind & chase it out the nooks of my edifice.
Tables of red pine prepared for sinks & taps
give off the ghostly pong of saw, sand paper, planer,
burns that loiter still & I appreciate the scent
: the village smells like dirty pants today
so I stop pursuing the wind
– the tin of black wood varnish, froths
with a waxy orange scent,
we need brushes with tiny heads
to make lithe long strokes along the grain;
my wife swishes two & fro, like an itchy nose,
over a short distance, hopping here & there
patches are left undone, to be returned upon.
We pretend to be calligraphers today,
but write no words, no need: we lost our ABC
: we do not struggle with the elements
that smother us in cold & make our working hard
– we do not struggle as our hands grow grubby & numb.
Waking & Dozing
Uncommonly I woke at 2 a.m
: the carpenters’ car headlights, the engines hum
& cackle of pebbles under tires,
Boreum-pup hauling her breeze block anchor
in hope of fuss or food from men
tired of a work day that stretched
from 7 a.m till 1 a.m for lousy pay.
I dozed a mesh of lines, as I thought to sleep,
ideas tumbled from the height
of that pleasure garden where grows lovely things;
but decided to leave them be,
to let them grow & fade unseen, be forgotten-
I justify it as a form of editing,
pleased that I entertained them all with care,
regardless of the brevity.
This morning all I have is this: a memory
of what could have been, I’ll not fuss,
leave fussing for the dog
: at least something became of nothing.
With a little help from Hui-Neng
The sweeping of the floor was done, in large
without a hint of weariness
: I held in head the fable of Hui-Neng-
I’ll not repeat it here;
the scrubbing of a floor’s
a different fable all together,
nothing to do with that peasant Zen man
& I could only manage an imagining
of a Victorian scullery maid
hunched on all fours scrubbing the kitchen floors
of Shugborough Hall
: a visitation from a childhood memory
I didn’t realize so at first, but then it came
& I was glad to greet the past
: a group of children led in lines by teachers,
enthused so courteous, or vice versa,
round a courtyard by an imitation maid
who explained Victorian routines & how to make soap.
They made it all seem so Romantic: our eyes glazed.
Find Meaning Anywhere
Today was soju clear, as cold too,
Halla Mountain was not attired in cloud,
she flaunted her countenance & curves
– I glanced at her admiringly
from time to time,
thinking when next I’ll get to visit her.
Struck through the teal sky
a streak of spent jet fuel
above me, resembled a millipede,
or maybe a giraffe’s vertebrae-
I did not need to see a clock to tell
me it was evening time;
it is my favourite time of day.
I’d done a hefty sum,
exactly what is needless to record.
Concern for loved ones hasn’t always been
my forte, but I’m studying to reform;
I’m sorry about all this, I truly am.
Them that deserve a better me
I will offer a four leaf clover
: find myself a field & diligently sift
through endless blades of grass, careful not to disturb,
until I have a bouquet for the past & future.
The millipede, giraffe & Halla Mountain,
perhaps even the clarity of the day,
have something to do with all this change.
She rose before me having retired to bed
two hours before last night.
I lay feigning hermetic sleep in low lamp light
& listened to the soft noises my wife stirred:
her hand rub the pages of a book,
the shlick of each page she turned,
her pen underline favoured passages;
the slow pour of water dribble out the kettle
& patter on a tea bag gentle as a rabbit’s foot;
the almost inaudible crease of her clothes;
the quietest whisper as she read out loud
to hear the meaning better;
the rustling of tissue between fingers & thumb;
the placing of her cup on a towel
– I even think I heard her blink.
My alarm interrupted with Waits’ Russian Dance,
the warmth in my chest I’d clutched,
the butterflies dancing in my tummy, gone;
but the bibble of the rain seemed fond of me.
I get excited when the opportunity
to visit Hallim wet market comes
: the rustic sights, fomentation’s stinks,
the bustle of country people bargaining.
– I enjoy looking at the kimchi, spice red & glistening,
each individual, made with different vegetables
: cabbage, mustard leaves, green onion, radish
– the jumbled stench of garlic, ginseng, ginger
crushed eel, fish & red pepper paste
– in ratio according to its makers preference
– tickles your nose alive.
She also sells pickled garlic, sesame leaves
with nuts and black bean, sticky & red,
sliced lotus roots in sesame oil & soy sauce,
blocks of tofu still warm,
dried cranberries, cherries & apricots
that look like a mouse’s knuckles, shrivelled;
freshly fomented bean paste of numerous potency,
squeezed in buckets a strong chap would struggle to budge.
On the fish stall they mainly sell
mackerel, cutlass fish, red snapper, bream
& pure white squid, the fishes’ mouths pursed
in the final struggle for their habitat;
mollusks of all sorts: clam, abalone, sea snails
& sea weeds clumped in sea water.
The vegetable man’s veggies are all caked in dirt,
just how I like them
-knobbly carrots, crooked as a witches nose,
radishes like elongated heads,
hard smelling green onions, cabbage
& lettuce leaves all shapes, textures & size,
potatoes like fists that thump out the earth.
One woman sells black pig steamed pork,
all the skin melts in your mouth,
goes down well with makkoli,
but I am not fond of the texture;
she also sells sweet potatoes steamed or grilled,
it irritates me that people discard of the skin first,
they have a nutty flavour unlike the English variety.
Opposite her an old man lifts a large domed lid,
steam spills to uncover rice bread,
plump & squishy shaped into buns,
sweet red bean in the middle, beside
king prawns in batter sizzling away.
I picture the poet Shin Kyong-Nim
having a chin wag with one of the store owners
about the hardships of this life
over a game of janggi, chomping a raw yam,
pouring each other glasses of soju,
chilled by the cold weather
– trying to sell some of his wares from the mine
: he always wrote about the markets of his day,
as if they were the sap of his country’s livelihood;
it’s fitting I should see him here.
The grime between the bathroom’s grey tiles,
amassed over the past few months,
would not budge without a tousle.
With my fore finger settled into the furrow
I rigorously scrubbed & scrubbed & scrubbed,
but it was obdurate & held its trench well;
I gave credit where credit was due & considered:
is humanity as stubborn as this stain?
or are we impeccable like the potential white of the mortar,
as flexible too, simply advanced upon by grey
encroaching on our endeavours to be clear of stain
: it rained so much today the dog hid in her kennel,
sad eyed, laying blame on the copious grey clouds.
Tomorrow I’ll spread a fresh layer of mortar
between the tiles to cover up the grime.
The Origin of Change
My curious wife questioned me
as to what it is that has made me more
considerate since returning from the mainland
: these days I seem more suited to the title nampyeon,
the Korean word for husband
: ‘Nam’ being ‘man’ & ‘pyeon’ being ‘comfort’
– thus, the man who comforts.
I could not gratify her curiosity
I do not know the origin myself.
Have I been fixed to themes,
imbibed from my Romantic days so long,
they have become more me than I?
Am I predetermined?
That’s surely balderdash, or else
… to think this wise is to behave evasively
from the pivotal matter:
we have so very few answers to why.
& still I cannot shake these themes
: of the origin of time and stuff;
the meaning of events;
the synchronicity of me & It;
the turtle I saw swimming in sewage
beside the bike path in Seoul when I was lonely;
the dove that plunged from its business in the sky
to cross me as I considered the function of love;
to have found ‘In Search of the Miraculous’, whilst drunk,
on a Wetherspoon’s bookshelf gathering dust;
to have met my wife on the unlikely day
I took the other mountain path
: I have no quarrel with these occasions,
just meaning that parries being solved.
The Mind of the Mason
The sculptures of Korean goddesses
outside the stone masons,
all have the same tits, rotund & pert,
like sanded down buoys
& so too does my wife;
I wonder if they’re standard issue across the race…
or if the mason trawled through plenty of photos
– on that internet –
to get a perfect likeness,
a week or so with tits on the brain,
& the similarity to my wife is a fluke.
I like to think he did his field research
& had himself a time.
Goldilocks & the 3 Baths
Windows have been omitted from the bathhouse,
it is a den of steam-
I settle my nerves in the arms of its bulk.
I’m naked as Adam, no fig to conceal my cock
: I’ve come to sweat & cleanse four days of filth.
There is a cold bath, 20°,
a warm bath, 38.6°,
& a hot bath 40.9°.
I feel the malleability of my flesh
: plunging into the cold bath it tautens
& tingles like a bell,
reminding me my nerves are pockets of life;
in the hot bath & sauna it slackens,
I know comfort in my skin.
First, in the calid bath,
the heat makes me doze,
my fingers loll in the cold bath parallel,
my body wholly submerged in the warm
– my fingers do not goggle in awe
at their stubbiness
– the heat suffocates me,
I splash cold water on my pate.
Next, I sit like a wishbone
over the divide between the cold & warm
… the Goldilocks tale
could be interpreted as a Buddhist parable,
I’m too ugly to be her,
but follow her cleptomanic example
in my need to find analogies.
A Journey into the Jaws of Immigration
This is the hell of It
: documents in Mandarin, Hangul & English
– still I need advice & guiding hand
: sign here, name there in bold, tick the boxes,
am I only this to them
: white form, pink form, a number on a blue card,
a bureaucratic ratio of stamps.
The Immigration office employees,
neat, long faced, buttoned up,
move slower than the world outside
– do they revolve to the tick of a different clock?
another rule of thumb?
are they readjusting the laws of Physics?
Am I shrinking here, to the hell of It…
The gentleman beside me tugs my gawp,
well, actually his cheap, imitation-enamel-silk-tie,
with bands of gold & diagonally serried
seashell pattern woven down its façade,
does, in point of fact;
shit a nun, it is ugly as fuck.
He must be getting on in years
& dyes his hair to hide his age,
but the creases & crow’s feet, the fold of his chin
betray his spilt time-
I want to say: be honest pal,
we all have to get along with time.
He’ll live the remainder of his days
without the foggiest I jotted down
this poem while he viciously chomped
his beef soup & rice;
become an example of the struggle
to cope with the cruelty of the Hours.
Everything’s Made in China these Days
Everything’s made in China these days,
to what ends will the making go?
: my heart was made in China, without my knowing,
my impulse to go on & yours too,
all mediocre stuff, made in China;
our fingers & toes, a deer’s hoof
– every animal living & dead, factory made, in China,
the nuts & bolts of the light bulb of think,
the soft of love’s caress: Chinese made;
the mechanism in your legs & elbows
– flesh, veins, nerves, muscle, blood
O & synapses, amygdala, all the neurons etc…
anything that buzzes, the sound is manufactured
– eye lids, teeth, hair, saliva, gums & genitals,
look closely you will see a ‘made in China stamp on the inside;
I suppose you weren’t aware that 90% of ear wax
is grown by children on a farm, in China.
Déjà vu, actually comes in little sachets
when boiled releases on the world the odd
sensation it has happened before;
it’s all the way from China.
Rocks, they’re made on a production line;
sand too, from the less attractive rocks,
mashed & mashed to make your beach.
Any happenstance that happened yesterday
& the fog of 19th century London, from China
– don’t believe what people say;
everything these days is made in China.
Grow off Me
It has rained & blustered all week,
island weather has dementia praecox;
but I’m not glum, my chin is up
: spring’s punctual this year beyond the habit
of previous years that brought me to my seat’s edge
: another couple of months to wait at least on the mainland.
I have become more fertile than the soil
: the palms of my hands are gardens,
my back a furrowed field waiting to be sown,
my face a hawthorn hedgerow full of chitting wrens;
my chest a topiarian’s wet dream
– it is the doing of all this rain, it has to be.
A Nursery Rhyme
The stones are dirty get them clean
get them clean
get them clean
I got to make them spick n’ span
spick n’ span
spick n’ span
I’ll blast cold water out the hose
out the hose
out the hose
it matters not the stones can’t feel
stones can’t feel
stones can’t feel
I make a rainbow with the sun
with the sun
with the sun
and fire it at the filthy stones
the stones are clean now we can smile
we can smile
we can smile
my feet are sopping wet
because my boots are old
I’ll get me by the fire
to pull away the cold