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!

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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
MORE THAN 3 MILLION DEAD, OR MISSING––
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.

Surviving the Storm

for Claudette

In North Carolina, the leaves were icicles that literally
hung on trees. The bare bones of winter, made
to experience a frigid coldness that didn’t only
freeze water. But took livestock & people.

A coldness that didn’t only reside in the air,
but was so insipid that it robbed me of the
twenty six years that I had chosen to sojourn
in New York City. Yes, New York State.

No one can escape the winter crawl that
Polar vortex that only struck us this year. As if
twenty six is such a significant figure,
thirteen times two. But me, I’ve had enough.

Because if man is more than just skin
and bones, mind and mentality, then leaving here
is as simple as saying yes to the sun, and no
to the cold. Because the time honored tradition

of man isn’t about survival of the fittest,
or being more ingenious. Maybe instead, it is
about common sense kicking back in
when everything else – has gone.

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Writing Prompt # 32

The world used to seem so vast.

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Now people can find the stuff they like, love in other places.

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How about you?

Your characters?

Where have you travelled? What familiar things have you found?

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W.P. # 32 Write about a place you’ve been to or something familiar you’ve discovered in a strange place.

Writing Prompt # 12

walk 2

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There is a delicate balance to life between what we see and what we know… change can happen in the slightest of instances, as the most inopportune times… Consider the following prompt with this in mind.

Writing Prompt: It was morning and he was about to walk out the door…

walk 3

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Chapter 19: Come Let’s Switch, the Future Once Said to the Past

Scooting down in her seat, Brandi did her best to ignore the feel of the pendant as it brushed against her skin, underneath her t-shirt. Looking around at the other students, she wanted to run. But she squelched the feeling down, as she opened the window wider, to avoid the rising smell of feet and sweat.

She rubbed her palms together, hoping that today would be different, because somehow yesterday she had avoided her mother’s reprimand, because Nicholas had assured her that it was safe, and she had returned to her room. It wasn’t as though she felt, she couldn’t trust them. Only that they had hidden everything about her father – because as they had put it, they hadn’t wanted to alienate her. Her? The only loner in a family of extroverts, she chided herself, trying to forget where she was, as she extracted a few books out of her bag.

“Are you writing a journal?” a once familiar voice asked, as a slim body leaned closer. She raised her head and eyeballed Teresa, wanting to become smaller; the same way she had seen Latoya do it in the Hummer.

Oblivious to her friend’s discomfort, Teresa nodded, pulling out her own assignment. “Did you enjoy the party?”

Doing her best to keep a straight face, she wondered how her friend could be so malicious as to use Latoya. And try to injure her. “Nothing too dramatic,” Brandi said, thinking about how she and Roger had managed to defeat the messenger, and Latoya. How they had even managed to return home safely. Surely Teresa wasn’t going to play innocent, like she had done nothing. Brandi turned away from her friend’s steely gaze. “Somehow we managed it.”

“Yeah, I bet,” Teresa said opening her own book, before glancing swiftly out the window. She wiped her face. Turning back, Brandi watched as she focused on their assignment on fate, as she bypassed the small intro that mentioned something morbid about destiny as Teresa thrust the book into her open palms.

As if Teresa knew her and was familiar with what she had written, she offered Brandi some advice. “If you’re going to mention A Christmas Carol, this would be the worse place to mention the inciting incident,” Teresa said, pointing to her third paragraph, after she took possession of her friend’s partial essay. She pursed her lips and thought for a moment before continuing.

“What you need to do is to say something ingenious to help draw the reader in and then discuss how the hero had no other choice – how he had to do what was desired.” She arched an eyebrow, looking outside as if everything else except Brandi could understand what she was getting at as Brandi raised her head, trying to dismiss her and the neat script that seemed to be written in front of her.

Wishing that Roger was there beside her. That he could at least offer some other explanation for the way things were turning out. And what was expected of her. Brandi took a deep breath, almost wishing for this to pass, as Teresa scooted closer.

Her friend tore out a page and pushed it forward, as the bus lurched to a stop on the crowded street. Teresa took her hand. “You can use it if you like. I’ve already written another,” she said, lowering her head, pensive. “My mother always warned me about being prepared, but somehow I think it’s also ok to be a little reckless. To fly by the seat of your pants.” She offered a tight smile that Brandi though looked pinched. Forced. She nodded her head, so accustomed was she to her friend’s need for absolute favor.

“Your mother? How is she?” Brandi asked, remembering the harsh laugh that she had heard over the phone, when Teresa had tried to warn her away from Roger. But then nothing was wrong with Roger. He was her friend. He had danced with her at the party and then ensured that she got home safely. She shook her head, dismissing the aberrant thoughts. If anything the messenger was the one who needed to be questioned. She looked at her friend. And Teresa.

She eased back. Not knowing who to trust. Or what to do, as her fingers continued to scribble across the page. Whatever it was that was done – maybe it could be undone. She thought about Quasimodo’s warning and felt a sickening feeling in the pit of her stomach. She pushed the pages back to her friend.

“Thanks. But I don’t need it. Them,” Brandi said. Heard a soft click and then there was a ringing of bells. She covered her ears. Some of her books fell to the floor as the scene changed. And everything became fuzzy, she was only a few feet from her house. She turned. Watching it, she realized for the first time that the bus had disappeared.

Behind her, a bunch of children cheered and she caught a glimpse of something that looked like a baseball. It whizzed past her face and landed in the bushes nearby.

Then a thin boy with glasses appeared and retrieved the ball, casting a wary glance at Brandi, he turned back to his more muscular friend, who appeared to be wearing a pair of gloves.

Unconscious of Brandi, the muscular boy stepped forward and closed his palms to receive the ball, which the dark haired boy threw back.

He stepped forward, surveying Brandi for the first time. “You ready for my curveball, Dwight?” The other boy dusted off his pants and jeered, as if accustomed to his friend’s ogling stare. His greeting around new girls.

“Sure thing.”

Brandi looked at them, feeling a sense of familiarity. She was almost certain that the boy with the gloves, Van, resembled the man in one of the portraits at home. And then she shifted her gaze to the other one, who kind of reminded her of Roger.

The two of them watched her for a second and then made their way across the street. Then the boy who had first appraised her, Dwight, turned and gave her a quick wave. She waved back. Hesitantly and then as if deciding to follow them, she tugged at her bag and crossed the street.

“You know how to play?” Van asked.

She looked up at him, eyeing the now familiar brown glove and indicated to the other boy. “Ask Barnes, he’s adept at these things,” she said, before she could stop herself.

But Dwight shook his head as if she was misremembering things as she almost touched the pendant. She looked at him quizzically, somewhat baffled as his eyes met hers. “You must have me confused with someone else,” he said, adjusting his spectacles. “Van is the one with all the skills.”

Her father? Her mouth formed into a small o as she tried to wrap her mind around what was happening. How her father was the talented one, when Roger’s father was the one who seemed geekier. More scientifically prone to follow baseball. She shook her head, because she hated sports. Had never done anything that required too much effort, besides soccer tryouts. Something was wrong here.

Because she didn’t know half of the things, she thought she knew. Her father was into baseball even though Dwight was still his right hand man. She shook her head, wondering just how accurate the things the Nameless Ones had shown her, were. Unless she was wrong.

“Van?” Brandi asked, wondering why her father had chosen to use part of his surname instead of his first name. She peered closer because she had no idea that he was knowledgeable about anything. Let alone, baseball. She smiled. “You’ve got a rather unusual name.”

“I know,” he said, pointing to her colorful backpack. “Do you go to school on the weekend?” Brandi looked at him confused and then nodded, knowing that it would be difficult to explain where she came from and what she could do.

“Alright.” He moved away as if dismissing her and she scratched her head.

“I was going to the library.”

He nodded, apologetically as if he understood her dilemma. Felt her pain.

Brandi gave his shoulder a playful punch and muttered thanks. He smiled gleefully. “My mother thinks my brain isn’t screwed on right.”

He held up the gloves as if in protest. “I know the feeling.”

Beside him Dwight pocketed the baseball and offered her a comic. “Do you have a favorite hero?”

Brandi shrugged, hating to admit that reading wasn’t her strong suit and that she perused rather than read them. As her mind wondered to Roger’s desk and the hordes of comics, she imagined he possessed.

Dwight patted her hand. “Keep it.”

Wordlessly, Brandi stuffed it into her backpack, as her eyes turned and she continued to appraise her father, who was busy pitching another ball up into the air and catching it, just for fun.

She touched his shoulder blade, offering a goofy smile. “It’s nice to finally meet you.”

Van shook his head, exchanging an unknown look with Dwight. “I take it, you’re not from around here,” he said, leaning closer.

Brandi’s eyes perked up and her shoulders deflated. “Not really. But I guess like time, it’s all relative.”

Dwight tilted his head and frowned at Van as Brandi adjusted her bag.

“I’ve heard that the two of you like adventures,” she said as if the conversation had never been halted. Watching as the other kids behind them, continued with their own baseball game, and others attempted jump rope. The boys exchanged glances. Seemed intrigued. The kids in her time would be more busy playing video games or listening to music. She scratched her head, thinking about her mother, how that since she had began to work late, Brandi had gotten better at re-heating frozen dinners; and keeping herself company. Not that she minded.

Dwight opened another comic, pushing it closer to her purview. “They say Superman’s nothing without his weakness against kryptonite.” Brandi stared at him, wondering if he could really see her. Like Roger had.

He nodded.

“Thanks,” she said, giving his hand a light squeeze.

“No problem,” he said, wiping his eyes as if he was tearing up.

Van laughed. “Don’t mind Dwight. He’s trying to start a revolution.” Brandi looked down at her hands. Wondering how much damage he could do with a comic, as big drops of rain fell on their heads and they scrambled towards a house that resembled her own.