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Manoa 17.1 (2005) 172-187

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My message and my proclamation
Were not with persuasive words and wisdom
But with a demonstration of spirit and power.

Neon: Seoul to Busan

Each soldier was a sun
burning the city
& the city a rhyme I rapped to, glowing
blue, or was it yellow, or just a rainbow
growing and leaping from store to store, eye
to eye, TVs emitting movie
explosions, dramatic faces, other people laughing at those faces;
vendors wedging their bicycle bars past human traffic,
Mother pulling me up
the overpass & over crowds of black moptops
underneath—only faces, floating
faces, or I must be a spirit,

She tried to feed me
like the ghosts I fed
by placing them in my memory.

Food for the dead,
food for the living—
all the same for love, continuous
in bodies wet with history.

There was neon
in the forever-lit sky of all the faces—
a long, oozing flame bright as the bombs [End Page 172]
that fell here long ago, flames I felt
I could touch
in the reflection of my mother's glasses.

Snow: Busan, 1993

Children lined up & sang
the national anthem, of mountains past the DMZ & orchids
that withered into white-horsed carousels & my hands
sweating to calisthenics
in the schoolyard, where we danced
for martyrs & patriots. When it snowed
it meant the Japanese had ripped their own clothes
& thrown them into the sky—white of surrender,
white as the palm of my tutor's
hands, whiter than the orchids
in his cards:

Orchids not Moo-goong-hwa
Snow not Noon

Every subzero day I walked home,
the Red Light District warmed my face
to a glowing persimmon, where women offered calisthenics,
where hustlers shuffled American whiskey
& the cold of my mother's ring
waited as punishment.

My sister put scented flowers in her bra
& in the dark, it snowed
with every unhooking. Snow was not angelic
but something that came down & turned black

in the streets. My friends & I
tore up the poems
of exile & ennui & our imprints
in the snow became pictures
to fill, history
erasing itself. [End Page 173]

Busan: Electric Garden


city lights will domino
to the very edge of the port city docks,
and light up
the hungry white faces.

The shops will release wild
flower-color neon slogans:

delicious, yeah!


there was a body in my house
that did not speak,
that did not sleep,
but sang:

In this land
I feel cold.
In this house
I will stay
With the brothers
Whom I killed.

I leaned over the casket
& touched the cotton sleeves
tied three times for the ceremony.


Kate wants to impress me
in bed, with her knowledge
of Korean funerals. [End Page 174]

You tie the knot three times.
You bury them in the mountain.
You circle the wine three times around the grave.
But I know that face—mute, unmoving
Dahp-dahp ha da!
Untranslatable confinement.


Finding a body
I thought was dead already, that in my name
became two letters, living,
fusing: memory and brilliance.


I am the last
caretaker, stooping
for the watering
of collapsed orchids, scattered
beneath plastic sunflowers.

I Love You When We're in Busan

Gum like a tooth rattles in your mouth
& my sunglasses burnish bronze
kettles hanging from your hands & the night sky
like every sky in any city
shouts into your face—hands clapping a message
right into your eyes. So, remember
how the train comes chuckling
past your apartment;how the bicycle is repeatedly stolen
even when you put two locks around its neck;
& how the rosary Sister Kim put in your hands
slipped like water beads from a pink basin—
though your hands against the steamed window
open a new window: two eyes [End Page 175]
with ten strong lashes
pointing in all directions.
They gather voices: of aging merchants; of wireworks
veining the neighborhood; of night
traffic in Dae-Shin-Dong; of factory steam
making the air smell like rotten fish.

Woman, you keep me busy...