The trail to Bongjeongam

(Bongjeongam is a temple complex set pretty deep in the mountain range of Seorak in the North East of Korea. Monks go there to live & study, as it is more remote than most temples.
Last September i spent 10 days wandering around these mountains with a Man Dressed like a Forest. This is quite an old poem now & part of a short(ish) collection of poems about Korea, titled Glass | Cement | Granite | Salt, which i am working toward trying to get published.)

He wakes with a start | as if returning from the dead | his arms
relax from hugging his chest thawed. Flustered & trying to catch his breath he struggles
to come to terms with getting his 2nd wind—an opportunity to make amends.
Reason is useless but all we have. i may as well name a tree | Boat

& call a pebble the best-of-my-intentions. The runnel is clean |
our actions poison even the purest will— i am speechless
to baptize myself in the cold water. A female monk on the trail
never stops smiling | indelible. A smile is cheap | like saying I love you

on the church bell’s hour— it wears. Smiles should be reserved
for exact occasions | there aren’t many. i’ve heard & read much on quiet of mind.
How much silence does a mind need? Is there a thermometer of mind silence?
It was quiet there. The monk’s chant cackled out of loudspeakers |

the forest full of the shadow of sutras as we approached Yeongshiam. The monk’s
voice like an animal yawning. He beat a wooden moktak in 4/4 |
a stiff heart beaten empty | water out of stone | wind battered
into the forest | temples erected | the roof bent into bows | hands of origami |

statues into the likenesses of men nobody ever met | pigment into paint |
opens doors | power behind muscle | wakes monks | the mountain | lights lanterns |
electric currents | heating | water | the will to grow in the soil |
the smell in cabbage | heat in chili | draws wind down the sky

to dry seaweed—if he stopped throttling the moktak |
time ends. Afterwards | as we set off again | i was unsure if
i’d veered from the idea of mountain | if i’d mistaken syllogism for metaphor.

 

20 thoughts on “The trail to Bongjeongam

  1. One thing I would say is, that if you’re trying to get a collection published, don’t blog poems from it. Most (all?) the poetry publishers I know seem to want collections to be of unpublished works. It’s another matter to blog poems deliberately excluded from the collection but indicative of it – I blogged a small handful that weren’t included in ‘I am not a fish’. I realise I’m talking to a well-set-up poet here, and should mind my nose.

    First poem, outside of “And he wheel’d t’wheelbarrow while t’runnel fell off” that I’ve seen with the word ‘runnel’ in it. But then you keep doing this!

    Nothing more to say, really, because what I do with the best of your poems is just surf them.

    M.

    1. I respectfully disagree, Marie. In my experience most journal publications want unpublished poems, but book publishers expect that a good portion of the poems have been published – they hope/demand that a readership exists. Having said that, I realize that certain publishers state that they want manuscripts containing only a certain percentage of published pieces (Platypus Press comes to mind), but I believe they’re in the minority. Speaking of Platypus Press, Daniel, you might give them a good look see. They publish some interesting work.

      1. i suspect Marie has had different experiences, but i thought poems from chapbooks was usually ok & it was poems for journals that they usually want previously unpublished. i think i picked that up from you.

        i tried Platypus, got turned down “not quite right for us.” O well. i think part of the problem is, (though i stress my long term living arrangement in Korea) editors think these are tourist poems, when they are not, if anything they are anti-tourist & actually chart a long spell, close to a decade, of living in a country completely different to the West. There’s the other thing, the reality & the Western perception are different of the East, they seem to want westernized Orientalism, which is cool (because of the Beats), but to actually live there & show that these people aren’t to be romanced, that has no pull. Maybe i am wrong, but i can’t help but think Orientalism is always going to mean people have pre-conceptions about the East & that will work to my detriment.

        This poem is a point in case to my remark about WordPress being quiet: 9 likes for a poem which usually gets over 20 & has even gone up to 40. This has had half my usual traffic. Very odd.

    2. i can’t say you are wrong, but i’ve learned from others it is ok. i don’t post many Korea poems these days, actually this one was a test to see if my hunch about the quietness of WordPress was correct. These poems usually get a lot of traffic, but as you see, this got 9 likes & half my usual views. Somethings a foot.

      Hope i can continue to surprise.

  2. A lot of ideas expressed in unique ways, Daniel. Enjoyed this piece and makes me wish I had more time to spend on it. Currently even meditation, something I used to do regularly, has taken a back seat. I think my answer to your question about mind silence (without a measure) is as much as possible. Then there’s the old Buddhist joke: meditate for half an hour a day, if you don’t have time, meditate for an hour.

    1. i like the humour of Buddhism & Zen. i sometimes feel our Orientalist leanings have made it all too serious, when there is a lot of humour in it all.
      i used to meditate a lot, nowadays i think productivity is meditation. i’d rather be active.
      This poem is one of my criticisms of Zen in fact. It shouldn’t escape. Needs a whacking with a stick once in a while.

    1. An interesting line to zoom in on.
      We all postpone things, foresight is very difficult, even the spontaneity of a “2nd wind” can be difficult to put to good use, unless we act well on impulse.

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