A Smoke Break at the Nuclear Command
We multitask — chop, grill, wok, and pickle.
They are fickle, can come all hours, drunk,
after sex, before meetings, during greetings;
hucksters, gangsters, no telling who wants what
stir-fried, steamed rock cod with its head and bulbous eyes.
My father at the meat block hacks spareribs, carves bone from chicken,
minces onions, six sons chow the mein, French-fry the sausage,
whip the gravy, beat the eggs until you can fool the young
into thinking that’s sperm yanked from a calf.
Smoke signals say the pork chops are burnt,
the white sauce turning yellow, while the waitresses ladle soup.
Sounds like feeding at the zoo. Chopsticks tingle from a corner booth.
On and on motors start and stop, doors open and shut, ice water is
set down as menus are tossed. You need a minute? Mom is helping the girls to wash
glasses and tea pots. It would be sinful to run out of hot mustard during the rush.
My father drinks my coffee and I smoke his Marlboro,
Two cowboys in a cattle drive fending off rustlers, and damn!
The waitress says that the women’s toilet has overflowed!
We are going to go fishing as soon as our mental breakdowns are over with.
And we are going to take a smoke break from the nuclear command.
Just then ,a party of 12 comes in – well, put two tables together,
like a man joining a woman, the yin and yang, and kids with yo-yo’s.
We are a family doing family business, money for school books,
A Season in Hell
“When you come in to work each morning, remove your bodily organs and limbs
one by one. Hang them up on the hooks provided in the walk-in box, then put a white apron
onto your disembodied self, pick up a knife,
and go to the meat block,” said Alex the manager.
I was also drained of blood and other vital bodily fluids.
After the morning rush preparing pork adobo and chicken curry, I ate lunch with Fong the chief cook and Lee the dishwasher.
In the afternoon, I examined souls and kept their merits and demerits in a ledger. For the three months I worked at City Lunch near the Bart Station,
I paid my rent and gradually became robust enough to walk to work. The entire city of San Francisco swung with the rhythm of my walk,
and stars appeared in the middle of the afternoon with a sliver of the moon.
Meanwhile, at Fisherman’s Wharf, the stingrays came to the jetty and whipped their tails against rocks; tourists paid me to dance on the waves. I carefully tread water and remembered to breathe.
In the end, I was evicted anyway from my castle that glowed at night. For lack of anything better to do, I walked from hilltop to hilltop,
burned newspapers to inhale the smoke, then climbed down to the water
beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and harvested seaweed.
I waited until one sunny day when the water was warm and calm,
then swam all the way to Asia and got replacements for my disembodied self.
I did not forget that I was a ghost. And that was my first season in Hell.
Or, driving around for a poem
Driving behind a logging truck with dancing flags
Pinned on the logs, I listen to “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles.
Miss Freeland wants a poem for her creative writing class.
In the pulse of sawmills, I cut this logging town
Into board feet with my ’55 Plymouth, with saw dust
Plenty to make ice cream cones. I tend to forget
The manure that gives us Red Delicious, or this memory.
Between windshield-wiper swings, I hear the tugs’ blasts.
Perch and red snapper flap on Scandinavian boats,
Neighborhoods where I sold subscriptions of the Reader’s Digest
In Finnish or Polish editions. Catching a glimpse
Of a girl at the S.H. Kress coffee counter, I think
Of the book on the back seat, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.
The doctors in the antiseptic Backer Building can’t take away
This and other pains of a small town.
It is near Xmas. My little brother peeks out the window
Of the car. He is promised hot dogs and ice cream for coming along.
If a pretty girl raises her umbrella, I’ll write a long poem.
No such luck. We cross over to Cosmopolis to see
Boys fishing the Wishkah for sturgeon.
The car is damp, the heater doesn’t work.
In the monotony of rain and windshield-wiper swings,
I think I have a rhythm to beat the words against.
My brother and I settle for hot dogs and milkshakes
At a drive-in going out of town.
Koon Woon, residing at 2012 18th Ave. South, Seattle, was born in a small village near Canton, China in 1949, immigrated to the United States in 1960. He has been a Chinese waiter and cook, US postal and factory worker, mathematics and philosophy student, a former resident of Seattle’s Chinatown district, newspaper reporter, activist for housing and tenant rights, and finally earned his right as poet. His first full-length book, The Truth in Rented Rooms, from Kaya (NY,NY 1998) was a finalist in the Norma Farber first book award from the Poetry Society of America and the winner of the Josephine Miles Award for literary excellence from the Pen Oakland Society. Since his appearance in the Bumbershoot Arts Festival in 1985, Koon has published his poetry in dozens of journals in the US and abroad. He has given many readings and judged poetry contests, held workshops, and organized readings, including the sponsorship of Jack Foley and John Holbrook at the Hugo House in Seattle with the funding of Poets and Writers, Inc. His book has been used as a text for critical studies at several universities and colleges, including Bard, Sarah Lawrence, UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley. His poems have been read over the radio by Garrison Keillor and he has been interviewed by Jack Foley on KPFA radio in Berkeley. Koon has formed Chrysanthemum Literary Society and Chrysanthemum Publications, Inc., and he is now preparing for admission to the Psych D. program in clinical psychology at Antioch University Seattle. His much-anticipated second book from Kaya, Water Chasing Water, is due October 15, 2012.
[Posted on 11 November 2012]