Poetry Post-A-Thon: Away with the Bitterness

This one was published in Peeking Cat Poetry

Away with the Bitterness

Uncle’s sweet tooth had to be satisfied and
each day he would fill his brown paper
lunch bag with a peanut butter sandwich,
always with wheat bread,
and two peanut butter cups.

My eleven-year-old eyes watched
this ritual each day while eating
the Life cereal he had prepared for me:
a half bowl with two heaping
tablespoons of sugar and a seventies
era Tupperware cup of milk.

I would later learn that while he
breakfasted with me each day,
my aunt would be in the next room
giving herself the morning insulin shot.

Uncle would always be given sweets
because no one could think of
anything else he would enjoy.
Besides the occasional jar of Brazilian
or cashew nuts, were the Whitman candies
most people reserved as an obligatory gift
for someone they did not know.

His wife would watch the candy with bitter eyes,
for she could not have the crust at Pizza Hut,
nor the breaded fish at Long John Silvers,
which blocked her calls because she
complained too much on their hotline.

It was she who begged him long ago to leave
his love in England during the war
to join her in the States, or else,
the blood would run not from
the trenches of Europe,
but rather the veins
in her wrists back home.

On Christmas, he would smile knowing the candy
he was to receive, and she scowled
as he passed the chocolate caramels around,
encouraging all but her to a Merry Christmas:

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Poetry Post-A-Thon: Chaos and Conformity

This one was published in Alaska Women Speak

Chaos and Conformity
The shoes sat orderly on three wood shelves
outside the Korean school
in shades of brown,
with no princesses,
no action figures on them—
nothing to outwardly distinguish one
set from another.
As you enter,
the foreign English language teacher,
you expect the shoes belong to bodies
that are
full of chaos,
full of yells,
full of squeals.
You imagine arms and legs smeared
with paint and paste.
Instead,
the sea of gray and blue shirts,
pants and jumpers,
is a sea of conformity and calm,
shattered by the appearance of
the dissimilar,
the foreign,
of language
and of appearance—
you.

Poetry Post-A-Thon: Bibimbap

Bibimbap

She sees your pale blue eyes
and knows it is your first time.
She seizes your dolsot bibimbap,
out of your reach,
and starts whipping the stone pot
with the metal spoon.
Ne!
Ne!
Ne!
She chants over your stone pot
of cracking rice, vegetables and
hot chili pepper paste.
Trapped, she commandeered your plate,
and you and your fellow patrons
nod and cheer her frenzy on.
As the silver spoon scrapes the pot,
her tongue talks to the concoction
like one of Macbeth’s witches
until the stone pot and the chili
pepper paste mixture are one;
the batter, just the right consistency.
Finally, she ceases to a smile,
surrenders the spoon to the novice
with a bow, and retreats to the kitchen.
Kamsahamnida.
Thank you, you nod and smile,
knowing nothing you do or say
could ever top that act.

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.

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.