begin in Seoul

i am still reeling in my tongue from the surprise reception i received after Tim Miller published me on wordandsilence. i have never had that much focus before & it felt good.
i am following it up with a poem Tim helped me edit, an apt follow up then.
Cities terrify me & here is what seeps from me after a visit to one of them. (none of my own photography in this post.)

begin in Seoul

하나 : Seoul’s nervous system

the subway trains i think of as electrical impulses bolting
through tunnels fixed with myelin wires synchronous
with axon tracks that hurtle & swerve toward dendrite terminals
at which passengers, each an extension to a diallelus, get off
& knot each, in itself, coagulate system, a complex entirety;
all of which keeps the nucleus of the Seoul’s organism
palpitating & suspended like a heart on the cusp…
29 bridges leap back & forth, south to north over the wide hips of the Han
from Gangnam to Jongno-gu, linking fleets of metal phoenixes
which transport Seoul’s population to endless options of luxury.

Bukhan Mt leers down on all of us in impartial judgment
& filters lungfuls of our smog each minute- who has
known the inflexible torments of history’s pitfalls;
mislaid entire idioms in the sharp angles of her mind
& witnessed lost alphabets, philologists recovered for their king,
liberate the illiterate poor & stoke the pipe fume of the bitter aristocracy.
watched infectious paranoia consume monarchs with madness,
the last tigers that haunted her forests hunted down for sport,
& heroes rise out of the Imjin war & in ’68 erected in stone
at Gwanghwamun, as a reminder of the indomitable spirit of Korea.
seen calendars switched as the opulent stars seeped into traffic
& span with a celerity beyond the dawn’s circuitous grief.
it will protect her Seoul, even from the consumption of its self.
as the turbid river- where the constellations once knelt & drank
& the people flocked its banks, washed, communed, fished,
as it escorted Bukhan’s mineral volumes, rich oath of rock,
to the rapid verbosity of the undine’s alluvion
-is mopped up by the sea like gravy from a sailor’s dish.

everything seems caught in quotation marks here.
idling people dozing or waiting to receive updates,
to see if so & so got something better than they got;
prodding rapidly their screens to collect worthless points
in cartooinsh games so garish & quick they foment epileptic starts.
there could be drastic consequences if that young chap doesn’t
turn that tinny, synthetic K-pop, like nails rattled in a can, off, soon!
i hear old men fart on their seats to keep them warm & ward
off potential seat usurpers; 3 codgers stare, size me up,
regardless of my having no intention to take their designated seat.
children too, stare, ruffling their eye brows like muslin curtains
to say why does that face have a beard & why’s it here?
desperate sales men & women staccato quick step
along every carriage . stop . to spin their well-rehearsed spiel
to flog their picnic mats, gloves, pocket radios, rain macs
– practical items people don’t realise they need until they do.

it would be easier if i could envision Seoul as how things are;
but an errant synapse in me will not permit complicity.
between this many vapid, pale faces, there must be,
there has to be according to the law of averages, just one
capable of muddling the whole grimy lot of it together
into an adequate transliteration of the death trope, for us to quote.

둘 : subway soliloquy

i cotton on to the mannerisms of others, i know
them better than they know themselves & yet
i haven’t a clue as to who i am, what i am doing here;
am i on a tour of their sin, to share their gluttony for haste
& the morning after imprecations in favour of slothfulness?
in this place i have more opinions about than i ever
had regarding myself. i’ve always been deliberately evasive
with traffic lights. i’ll begin being all over again in a year or so;
i’ll take myself some place else i can never understand.
& still, though i have some vague hope, no one will
come to me with arms full of themselves revealed
& explain to me how best to mimic them without
missing a step or having to make a second attempt
: that would make all the difference to me- until then…

셋 : a short nocturne

no doubt it’s just the solemn collapse
of the nocturne over the slab of city
that swings a lonely girl
like the hidden stars into an object of pity
whilst ambulances stencil hazards out incomplete dark.

넷 : the one who sees gods

a young lad drank too much & made himself a shambles
: grass stains on his left shoulder & right knee,
he’d been hauling the world here & there methinks,
garbles the mouthwash of his woman troubles to me
in a language only the inebriate understand so well;
fails to stand still as the plinth i wish him to mount,
zig zags in an irregular helix shuffle narrowly missing curb-traffic.
every Seoul he meets he flatters with the title
god of my generation; he’s correct every time
: in this neon, the right application of moisturizer, toner, foundation,
oils, mascara, gloss, everyone glistens with alchemical scintillae,
the shadow cast from suspended footsteps follow under street lamps,
their unguents repel the sewage & cheap fried food
– these synthetic god types are the prototype of what
so many here pine for once their bank accounts flower.
all there is here is looking good, it is simple : keepmouthshut,
head in airplane mode, regulate breath & pray the surgeons
will look kindly on us all from their Gangnam offices
this summer & have a 50% sale on chin chiseling & eye widening
before the sea change of age decimates a chance of romance.
meanwhile, the fashion industry indiscreetly favours us,
the death of the old season takes care of our beatitude
& don’t forget booze, which is always a helping hand
: it, without altercation, fixes the ugly & shy into objects of adoration.

다섯 : bird in a bee hive

i feel at odds with this wide expanse
that claims so much of us, to be much of us,
its didactic, tarmacked arteries, telling us where to go,
promising us the will to choose rather than follow
the foul mouthed halitosis of its slogans pasted on billboards
telling us what to buy, suggesting insurance to coddle us
& loan interests’ %, to help give us more of…
taxi drivers’, gave me indigestion, more so even than
the piss-flat lager, the poxy ingredients for the pseudo curry
& greasy Chinese food ladies with fur clutch purses,
leopard print shirts, plastic stilettos & panda kohl ladle,
cloying to their trachea while they chat schools & cash.
the stench of faecal waste could ossify the clouds
& melt the glass façade of Yeouido, crisp its river park
: it’s no surprise i should feel claustrophobic then
: it is a tight space in me for it- we are not infinite
& neither is it infinite: it wouldn’t take much to level the Seoul.
a mosquito suffocating in urinals, squeezed
into dwarfish bathrooms in slim corridors of afterthought.
people narrowed into the Thermopylae of their screens
where they defend nothing but their single plate,
bowl or glass; occupation, job, routine, hobby, style, ideology.
i am grateful that birds with nooses round their throats
cannot from the avenues of birch & blossom nor
from gallows humour, be kicked to an untimely end.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. wanderwolf says:

    When you see cities like this, I can understand why they terrify you. I kept looking for ways that make this city different than other cities (ones I know in Europe and the US) and decided there is an uncanny in all of it… your lines bring out the uncanny experience of any stranger-found-home in a city

    1. Thanks for sharing your observations. i moved away from Seoul after a year to the mountains, & i live on an island now. i wrote this after a visit. i could never have written this when i lived there as the energy to manage such a feat was really very beyond my powers. but living in a clean place & returning with a clean scrubbed mind i could tackle it & bring some context of myself to it.
      i got nothing done when i lived. but drinking really. i was not meant for cities. i have browsed your blog. it is great. i hope to find time to make some educated observations soon. i have an affinity with Germany. i hitch hiked a while round it with my pal. he moved to Berlin & speaks top notch German. i regret never having moved there for at least a short time.

      1. wanderwolf says:

        If you regret it, it’s never too late! But if you’ve found a peace on your island, I’d hate to tell you to leave it.
        Thanks for the kind words about my blog- it will take me a while to read most of your posts! But I look forward to continued conversation.

  2. you are right, never say never. i like it here, but i am a restless person, who isn’t shy of discomfort, so who knows what will happen in the future.

  3. Fantastic haibun! You are a really great writer.

    1. thanks Daniel, i’ve been doing it a while, just learning the craft, i think that must have paid off.

      1. It has totally paid off. You are a kind of “Korean” Hemingway, or a Korea-based Hunter S. Thompson.

        Great stuff.

      2. a humbling comparison i only hope i can live up to in even the most marginal way. i found a site you may like, may even know, while checking the meaning of Haibun: contemporaryhaibunonline.com. i think i’ll submit here & quote your impression that my long form work is like Haibun. there is some great stuff on there.

      3. go for it. I think they will like it a LOT!

    2. haibun is a great word too. it encapsulates so much & fits to my intention with these long form poems.

  4. You have this genre, whatever one wants to call it, nailed. You are to me a real, a true, “haibunist.
    20 스타 out of 5!!

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