I was sure I'd miscounted, but I haven't. There's really seventeen of these things now. And that's not counting the ones I wasn't counting!
I do try to post these collections regularly, but I really felt like I needed to do one today. I've been feeling like a lump for the past week or so, and it really helps to feel productive. So this was good for me. I needed this.
Except for the first one (more on that in the commentary), all of these poems were written after we'd moved to Uijeongbu in mid-March of 2014 and started our new teaching jobs there. The last one was written in July, by which point it had become somewhat obvious we'd made a huge mistake in taking that job. But all things considered, it wasn't a bad time.
Forgotten Lands of Snow
In December's morning hours,
when the rocks grow fangs of
autumn frost that glitter
like my favorite waterfalls,
I think of all the places
where it's even colder,
where the winter is a state of climate,
not of calendar,
and the heads of state are
crowned with ice of blue
and icy green circlets of glass,
and the deep, powder snow
tops the houses like it's Tuesday
and that's just the thing to do.
Early Spring by the Gap River in Daejeon
What signs of spring today?
Is this as fertile country
as it seems, beneath
the hazy shade of winter?
Is the river full
of fish and birds as well
as artful paths of stone,
arranged with careful skill?
And are the mountains greening
on the roads of spring,
alive and rushing wild
Sun above, and breeze
across the valley floor,
and I am pleased to find
the sky is blue again;
The ducklings, newly hatched,
are paddling on their own
along the waterway,
their feathers soft and dry;
The hills are brown, but greening,
getting brighter with
in the heat of passion.
The Little Monster
Earnestly the little monster
tried to please its monstrous maker;
slowly did it realize
there was no pleasing human nature.
Angrily, the little monster
wrote a book about its soul.
The monsters tore it from its heart
to keep it under their control.
Silently, the little monster
sang the song it longed to learn
before the monsters killed the music
and the student had its turn.
Ode to my inexpensive speaker system
The little box makes bass
the hands that made it would
be proud to hear, erupting
boldly from the wood,
and all the troubles at
my job are nothing for
the treble in my heart,
the snares on two and four.
The voltage is too much
to carry home from here,
but future sorrow's nothing
to the sounds I hear.
Pictures of Women
I see them walking down the street: pictures
of women, skirts and thighs, passing by
my vision in an unexpected third
dimension, suddenly as real as life.
Pictures of girls in summer dresses, legs
as flawless as the fabric: that's the best
my eyes can do, and now it makes me feel
pathetic just to put it into words.
This isn't normal, is it? If I see
the women framed like portraits, flat
like paper, glossy like a magazine,
there must be something broken in my brain.
The scent of apples,
through my hair
like water, something
sweet in my mouth;
I know it's worth
fifteen, but how do
you think it came
to twenty five?
The Pohang Platform
You think you know the ocean
in the daylight, with
the glitter on the waves,
the harmony of seasons
in the summer songs;
and even with its size
you think you know your friend.
See your friend at night
in all its darkness, from
the silence of the pier,
peering at the depth
and seeing none that you
can measure; what is this
but fear you feel, who
is this you thought you knew?
Like Celes on the desert island
underneath the purple sky,
alone for all she knows, and watching
hours never passing by,
this waiting at the window sill
can never end while I'm asleep;
the lonely nightmare never ends
if I'm too frightened by the leap.
Somewhere on the darkened sea
is life, and life is hope of love,
while hope is beating on the wings
you bandaged for the wounded dove.
Smashing on the shoreline,
Breaking at the tip.
From somewhere in
The ocean's depths, the
Wave is growing bigger: watch
It rip across the beach, where summer's
children play, their colored towels are soon to drip.
Send the kids back home,
the walls are falling down
and all the glass is breaking:
someone call their mothers!
a job to do, before
the school can be declared
"safe for human life".
Further down the line
we'll hear about the scandals,
and we'll wonder how
the bastards got away.
Yonggungsa on the Rocks by the Sea
Could you capture all your passion in a
pool as small as this? Would the statues
calm the water and the rolling wind, and
keep the stones from drifting to the ocean?
As the temple's expiration date is
known, and all these things must pass away
before the breakers crush the yielding boulders,
prayers must be made in proper fashion.
Water of Life
The water's not clean, but it comes from the planet,
and thus the desire to drink it, to drain
the summer from the burbling fountain,
to take all the minerals into myself,
to draw the impurities into my cells,
now becoming as one with industrial Earth;
Because (let's be honest) it comes from a pipe
that came with a price tag and rusts like a bucket;
God help me for all of my foolish desires.
Songs about Sex
I know too many
I love to sing them,
but I only
want to do it
when I'm done,
I only want to
there's music in my
and rhythm in your
heart of hearts.
Did you know, my love,
that sometimes, when the night is deep
I hear you speaking softly?
A word or two, or three:
while I am lingering from sleep
your dreams have come to play,
to light across your lips,
a murmur in the dark to keep
the silence from the air,
a tickle in my ear
before I go, before the steep
decline has come to pass.
Did you know, my love,
that you've been talking in your sleep
and making perfect sense?
Our Dream Castle
We've laid a strong foundation here
to build a castle out of time,
a palace of impressive scale,
a lofty home for yours and mine.
Together we have planned the rooms,
arranged the gardens, set the stones
to mark the courtyard from the keep,
and polished timbers for the thrones.
Our dreams are blessed with music, and
the dance of laughter fills the stairs,
a magic kind of love's adventure
echoes proudly through the air.
And now a storm is bearing down,
a tempest blasting from the sky
to smash the splinters into bits,
and make the garden's flowers die.
The war of winds may not be stilled
before we lose our precious halls
or watch the lightning tear like knives
through paintings on the mansion walls.
These awful floods may scar the floors
and rot the bridge which spans the moat,
but when the weather clears, you'll find
our higher aspirations float.
No matter what disaster strikes
by storm or sword or vengeful wraith,
I know the walls will not be lost
because you give me cause for faith.
As strong as iron, oak, and and marble,
shining like a crystal sea,
the castle of our lives will weather
every trouble that could be.
And nothing will deny us peace
or harmony within ourselves:
when two decide to share a life,
no evil force may break their spells.
And here's the commentary!
Forgotten Lands of Snow should have been in the last poetry jam, as it was written in December 2013, shortly before we left Oregon for our big adventure. However, rather than writing it in my poetry journal, I had written it on my cell phone, which I could not use in South Korea, and so I had completely forgotten about it until I returned to America and rediscovered it in September 2014. And that's how I finally thought of a title for it! This poem is all about its imagery, it doesn't really have a message beyond "ice is pretty".
Tara, being more athletically inclined than I, joined the Cheonan traveling Ultimate Frisbee team when we were still living in that city. Though we moved to Uijeongbu before the season started, since the league played games all over the country and they'd have to travel anyway, she continued playing for them. I went to watch and cheer her on at her first away game in Daejeon, and while they were warming up I wrote Early Spring..., which has a pretty obvious title but a very nice, hopeful message. I like this one a lot, and yes I did crib a line from a Simon and Garfunkel song, thank you for noticing.
The Pohang Platform was written on another Frisbee outing (to the seaside town of Pohang, naturally). Incidentally, the best burritos to be found in South Korea are located in Pohang.
The Little Monster is about a couple of students that I had at my new job, particularly in my kindergarten and ESL classes. I had never really been responsible for kids that age before, to say nothing of kids who didn't really fit into the educational system their parents and society were trying to force them into. I had a job to do and their behaviors occasionally made me angry. However, I tried to always remember myself at that age, and how I wasn't much different, and the reasons why. So this poem grew out of my sympathy for them.
I wrote an Ode to my inexpensive speaker system because without it, I might well have lost my mind. One of my principle joys around this time was coming home, putting on Spotify, and rocking the house while preparing dinner for Tara. Of all the things I bought there, it ranks in the top three. Unfortunately, when we had to move out of that apartment in August, it must have bumped into something, because it started making a high pitched whine whenever it was on. For this tragic inconvenience, I blame our faithless employers.
Pictures of Women is a poem about objectification and the male gaze. The speaker in the poem (who, let's be honest, is more or less me) is disoriented by the tension between the cultural conditioning that has trained him to view the women around him as images for consumption, and a growing awareness that they are fully realized humans who don't exist for his sake. Much could probably be made of the fact that I am a white man and the women in my immediate surroundings at the time I conceived and wrote this poem were almost all Korean.
Salon Treatment is a cute little poem about a haircut that I may have been overcharged for, but possibly not as it was a very extensive, full-service operation. I agonized for a long time about whether to write "how do you" or "how'd you", with an eye to the exactitude of the meter. I ultimately decided the meter was not important enough to write something like "how'd you".
I was playing a lot of Final Fantasy VI last spring, and I nerded out so damn hard that I wrote a poem about one of its signature narrative moments. Yes, Celes is about a character from a JRPG that came out in 1994. Mark my words, some day it will not seem unusual or gimmicky for poets to make allusions to video games. Incidentally, I still haven't finished that particular play through... I should get on that.
I put a personal touch on my fourth grade class by incorporating some of my poetry into lessons, and encouraging my students to write their own examples. The Wave was written for a lesson on concrete poetry, or poems written to take the shape on the page of the thing they are about, which is why it looks so ridiculous. It looked a lot more like a wave when I wrote it on the white board way back when, but you get the idea. I'm including it here for nostalgia purposes, more than anything else.
Private Schools is about the dawning realization that I was working for an exceptionally haphazard organization. Upon writing the third stanza, I became convinced that I had either written it before or subconsciously stolen it from somewhere else. The poem's rhythm is loosely inspired by Simon and Garfunkel's song Save the Life of my Child (yes, I was listening to them a lot last year), but I didn't steal it from that, so I'm just going to assume I came up with it on my own.
I wrote Yonggungsa on the Rocks by the Sea after a visit to the eponymous temple in Busan. It was one of the most beautiful locations we managed to find in our stay there, and I loved it. If I could see something in South Korea again, I might very well want it to be that.
Water of Life might be the weirdest poem here, particularly for the really odd thing the meter does in the third line. I composed most of this poem in my head while walking to work one day, after being inspired by a leaking pipe I saw on the way. Somehow that line fit in perfectly and I didn't notice it was missing a bunch of syllables until after I'd had a chance to write it down. I tried to rewrite the line later, but nothing worked as well, so I accepted it as is. It's also weird because it's about a compulsive desire to drink water from a leaky pipe, but anyone could figure that out.
Songs about Sex is about sex, but it's pretty tame as sex poems go. The original title had something a lot cruder than "Sex", but I decided to spare you, gentle reader. Around this time I was experimenting with erotic poetry, and had managed to produce a 28-line opus in iambic pentameter that is, among other things: precisely metered and rhymed, outrageously inappropriate, hilariously awkward, and a little hot if you're into this sort of thing. Naturally it will never see the light of day, but I had to brag about it here because I managed to recall or reconstruct the entire thing from memory on the train home from Busan after it failed to save on my tablet the night before. I am not usually good at remembering lines of poetry, so I was very impressed with myself.
Sleep Talk is a love poem for Tara, about sleeping together in an entirely more innocent sense.
Our Dream Castle was written at a particularly stressful time at work, when the rest of the staff and I were negotiating with our faithless employer over when we would be paid our month's wages and pension (both were late). Tara and I were both thoroughly sick of this bullshit and more than a little homesick, so I wrote this poem in an effort to reassure her that we'd make it through OK.