Poetry Post-A-Thon: A Greeting at Imjingak

This poem originally appeared in Alaska Women Speak.

A Greeting at Imjingak

She ambled off the tour bus,
like she was crossing over rocks
in a rough river,
one half step at a time.
Glancing outside at the concrete building
like a child greets an amusement park,
she wore at least seventy years
in the lines of her smile,
a face that remembered a time
before the Forgotten War,
when the Koreas were one.

She bows her head,
Annyong hashimnikka,
she says to the young American couple,
the visiting airman and his wife,
stationed at Osan Air Force Base,
who were there because the war
never really ended in peace,
but in an armistice,
a pause in play,
a forgotten war,
between two Cold War superpowers:
one of which no longer exists;
the other whose boots still remain,
generations after they declared victory.

You both stumble and trip in your speech,
over the barbed wire that ties your tongue
and stings your stomach as you attempt
to return the formal, honorific
form of the greeting she used.

Inside you wish you were not there
so maybe she would not be there either.

The South Korean tourists come to Imjingak
to see what they cannot touch,
what they cannot feel,
who they cannot see in the flesh,
of a land that was once theirs,
the men and women who they once knew,
and decades later,
cannot forget.
The Americans come to see the plaques
from each state that gave men in combat,
that mark their success that divided
the Korean brothers and sisters
and repelled Communism to the 38th parallel.
They want to see the Bridge of Freedom
over the Imjin river
that returned their POWs
and ended their battle in the Korean War.

They want to glance at the forbidden land of North Korea,
beyond the fields of tank traps and mines
bearing three languages of warning:
Korean, Chinese and English,
to the concrete no-man’s land created
to keep the fragile peace and division.

Nothing could prepare your gut for that smile,
that glow that greets you at the bus,
the one which seems grateful,
rather than spiteful,
for your continual military presence,
the generation who still wants
your boots on their ground.

You stumble over the wires
that tangle your tongue:
you cannot say it well in Korean;.
you cannot even say it aloud in English.

You are sorry she is there,
and that you are still there,
and the Bridge of Freedom
did not set her free.

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Poetry Post-A-Thon: Babushka’s Samovar

This one was published in Alaska Women Speak

 

Babushka’s Samovar

 

The samovar placed on the kitchen table

is a poor replica of babushka’s samovar,

the silver one with the tiny teapot at the top

that held the strongest tea,

the tea she cautioned your tiny hand

not to touch,

not to hold.

Just watch, my devochka,

she would say,

as she poured the concentrated tea

into tiny china cups:

for you a little; for her a lot.

 

She would exhale the steam off her cup

like she was blowing off a potion,

like a spell casting you both back

to the old country,

the Good Russia of the tsars,

not the bad Russia where Lenin lived,

in the stories she would tell.

 

She takes you to the Samara of her youth,

when the tsar still lived

and the grand duchesses were the most

beautiful girls in the world,

as her tea cakes disappear

and your tea runs cold.

 

Today, your middle-aged hands fill

the teapot of your own samovar, far

less beautiful than babushka’s and made

of brass from new Russia.

You hope she doesn’t mind the cheap

imposter as you set two ceramic cups out,

and babushka’s spirit takes you to the

banks of the Volga just one more time.

Poetry Post-A-Thon: Bar Fine

This one was also published in Dead Snakes.

Bar Fine

She gyrated against the pole, but not
to the beat of the Kylie Minogue song
that played in the background
in the juicy bar, as her eyes zoned out
beyond the drunk American airmen
and Korean businessmen, the layers of
smoke and watered down shots of
cherry soju she had to sell later on,
beyond the walls and dirty streets
of Songtan, South Korea to the Odessa
she had long left,
but not forgotten.

The black wrap dress squeezed
the tops of her firm breasts and thighs
as the Korean flagged her to his table,
palm faced inward as it waved.

Later, the American beckoned her to his lap
with a crook of his index finger.
His ten thousand Korean won bought her
warm buttocks and watery lemon soju.

His wallet was thick and the airman
lonely without the wife from Georgia.
The Ukrainian with the gray eyes
and golden hair who patted his lap,
as she dreamt she was dead,
was good enough.

She had a son named Volodya
whom she wanted to see again
run across the green fields,
catch the ball and laugh,
and to see her mother’s eyes once more,
even if mama would not look
her in the eye ever again.

Before the local mafia took her visa
and the female Korean bar owner bought
her servitude, she dreamt of college
and life outside the shoe factory,
but the gentleman sold her life
and dreams to another land.

Her boss gave her the nod,
the bar fine had been paid,
and she was to leave the bar and
give the airman something she had
stopped feeling a long time ago.

But, he was too drunk to notice
the open window in the dingy apartment
he rented blocks down from the bar
and allowed her to close the bathroom door.

Beyond the square of the open window,
she saw Volodya’s eyes
in the street lights off in the distance.

Squeezing through the darkness,
the black knit dress ripped,
shredded and scraped raw
against her skin as she glided
through the hole like a diver in the open water,
before falling like a fish to the ground,
where she flopped naked, and ran,
ran to Volodya,
ran into the dark night,
until they wouldn’t let her run anymore.

Poetry Post-A-Thon: Insomnia

This one was published in Dead Snakes.

Insomnia

raises a black flag over your consciousness,
taunting you with a battle of bands:
a cacophony of Doc McStuffins
and the counting of sheep and other fluffy,
nonviolent animals that dance over a ravine
to a playlist of 80’s music
you can’t recall later when you are awake.
It teases you with R.E.M. sleep.
No, not the “It’s the End of the World” type,
but more the “Losing My Religion” type as images
of self murder and falling off of bridges grow
intertwined with children swimming at a lake.
Instead of surrendering,
you plant a picnic in April,
when the Midwest winds are cool enough
to remind you of the cold past,
but warm enough to give you hope
of the indulgent heat to come.
As you twist your toes over the cotton
plaid blanket beneath you,
your forearm covers your eyes from the sun’s glare.
The buzzing of honey bees
and the hum of a lawnmower rock you a lullaby:
gently,
gently,
as you hope it is
more than just a dream.

Poetry Post-A-Thon: Crabapples

This one was also published in the now defunct 13 Chairs.

Crabapples
You resisted Eve’s temptation
for far too long, passing
by the crabapple tree each day
with the stroller filled with the overtired,
but never passed out, fussy toddler.

The fruit hangs low,
red with a bit of yellow,
that by the day is eclipsed
by the growing red.

Each day you long for a bite
Because you think
it will remind you of Sky Queen,
the blue bike with the cloud seat
and the white straw basket
with three plastic daisies
of pink, blue and purple.
In the Midwest of your memory,
the crabapple tree reclines like a “y”
in your babysitter’s backyard.
In the summer, you rode
Sky Queen through the grass and crushed apples,
making your own sour applesauce on the ground.

For hours you gazed at the “y” and
from its branches, took the green apples and
threw them at the neighbor’s kid.
From its leaves, you sought shelter
from the July heat before you took bites
from the dirty apples
until your babysitter’s old finger shook
and sentenced you inside.

In Alaska, as the clouds spill low around the mountains,
the September morning frosts over the tree,
yet the fruit still stands,
inviting you to take it in like an old friend
who shows up at your doorstep unexpected.
So, you invite it in without looking,
and just as the child once did,
your now mature hands reach
over the stranger’s fence to pluck the reddest fruit.

Taking a bite, you are looking at the “y” again
and Sky Queen is your ride,
but now the fruit is bitter,
not tart like you once remembered.
You hear the buzzing
and see the yellow jackets
as they sting your feet
and suddenly, you notice the present world,
and you toss the bitter apple into the street drain,
and bid the uninvited guest to go away.

Poetry Post-A-Thon: The Fireweed Dies

Originally published in the now defunct journal 13 Chairs

The Fireweed Dies

a slow death in the dwindling Alaskan sun

surrounded by its closest family of weeds.

As the daylight shortens

and the August rain comes

the fireweed, once admired for its magenta beauty,

its petals that set the roadside aglow,

fades, growing white with age.

 

Its fragile cotton  sways in the wind

until the rains come and its days are labored

as life draws to a close.

In its last breath, the final puff leaves its lips

and takes flight with a gust of wind,

before falling to the earth and decay,

leaving its skeletal stalks to survive

the fall solstice only to be buried in the winter snow.

Poetry Post-A-Thon: The Fragments You Carry

Originally published in the now defunct 13 Chairs journal.

The Fragments You Carry

One box always carried

is a cardboard Ziploc container.

It could be the quart size,

the gallon size,

or even the sandwich size.

The contents,

the plastic sealable bags,

are not the important things.

 

With each military ordered move—

seven in fifteen years between

five states and one foreign country—

it is among the last boxes

removed from the house or apartment

that was your base,

where you celebrated Christmas,

away from your family,

for two or three years.

 

The bags are mostly gone.

They were used to secure the toiletries,

the mint toothpaste,

the lavender scented deodorant,

the red and green toothbrushes,

and the overpriced pumpkin spice body lotion

you wouldn’t dare throw away,

even if it is only one-third full,

 

in the suitcase that sits by itself

by the door with the cleaning supplies and oils

the movers would not take,

the glass cleaner you used yesterday,

the full bottle of rubbing alcohol,

and the half used olive oil

you will need to discard

in the overfilled trash can at the curb,

after you close the door one final time.

 

The cardboard box remains to pick up

the rest of your things:

the permanent markers,

the bottle of Tylenol,

the loose change,

the card from a friend wishing you a safe journey,

the receipt from your favorite pho restaurant

and the cheap vodka you had last night.

 

The final physical fragments of your former home

that will be emptied and thrown away

first at your next destination.