Montage with Neon, Bok Choi, Gasoline, Lovers & Strangers

I love this poem, maybe because of all the images, or because of the idea of what rebuilding a city looks like, or maybe because I love change. This poem, like many of the other poems in Notes from the Divided Country are teeming with life. Do enjoy!


Montage with Neon, Bok Choi, Gasoline,
Lovers & Strangers

by Suji Kwock Kim

None of the streets here has a name,
but if I’m lost
tonight I’m happy to be lost.

Ten million lanterns light the Seoul avenues
for Buddha’s Birthday,
ten million red blue green silver gold moons

burning far as the eye can see in every direction
& beyond,
“one for every spirit,”

voltage sizzling socket to socket
as thought does,
firing & firing the soul.

Lashed by wind, flying up like helium balloons
or hanging still
depending on weather,

they turn each road into an earthly River of Heaven
doubling & reversing
the river above,

though not made of much:
colored paper, glue, a few wires,
a constellation of poor facts.

I can’t help feeling giddy.
I’m drunk on neon, drunk on air,
drunk on seeing what was made

almost from nothing: if anything’s here
it was built
out of ash, out of the skull-rubble of war,

the city rising brick by brick
like a shared dream,
every bridge & pylon & girder & spar a miracle,

when half a century ago
there was nothing
but shrapnel, broken mortar-casings, corpses,

the War Memorialin Itaewon counting
still missed by the living, still loved beyond reason,

monument to the fact
no one can hurt you, no one kill you
like your own people.

I’ll never understand it.
I wonder about others I see on the sidewalks,
each soul fathomless––

strikers & scabs walking through Kwanghwamoon
or “Gate of Transformation by Light,”
riot police rapping nightsticks against plexiglass shields,

hawkers haggling over cellphones or silk shirts,
shaking dirt from chamae & bok choi,
chanting price after price,

fishermen cleaning tubs of cuttlefish & squid,
stripping copper carp,
lifting eels or green turtles dripping from tanks,

vendors setting up pojangmachas
to cook charred silkworms, broiled sparrows,
frying sesame leaves & mung-bean pancakes,

hunyak peddlers calling out names of cures
for sickness or love––
crushed bees, snake bile, ground deer antler, chrysanthemum root,

the grocer who calls me “daughter” because I look like her,
for she has long since left home,
bus drivers hurtling past in a blast of diesel-fumes,

dispatchers shouting the names of stations,
lovers so tender with each other
I hold my breath,

men with hair the color of scallion root
playing paduk, or Go,
old enough to have stolen overcoats & shoes from corpses,

whose spirits could not be broken,
whose every breath seems to say:
after things turned to their worst, we began again,

but may you never see what we saw,
may you never do what we’ve done,
may you never remember & may you never forget.

2 thoughts on “Montage with Neon, Bok Choi, Gasoline, Lovers & Strangers

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