NostalgiaNostalgia – my most ready and dispensable currency, rain
Trickling down the windowpane and
The useless clock failing
To stop time as forty years came and went,
In this underheated room that
Always had been underheated.
I stare into deep translucent green not
Believing much of what I did
Like a priest confronting nature
For the first time.
And things could have happened
Though I won’t say water running uphill.
But the heart does pump blood to
The zenith of the head.
And let all hurts revert
To their primeval virgin
I met you then-
We were both swimming a
We barely had the strength
To say “hello,”
But there we were
Spending several Springs until Autumn fell
On us, and we parted before snow could
Pile on our heads.
We reached for the sky as
All young people do.
But the sky is always up there for
Aspirations and not for one’s
So we waited until
Memory graced us
Like second-hand clothing from
Salvation Army counters. And whatever
Slight inflictions we suffered
Had healed beyond the point of memory.
Now like a hologram you still
Before me as my memory dives again
Into lost summers. Yes, living was dizzy then
As bees in a frenzy before honey-potent
Flowers. Life was indeed for our taking.
Now, however, between shaves, I grow
In years that bear witness to your absent
Hand stroking as you would a pale
Fire on its glow on the chin of your pet.
Between shaves, I have lost you
To the grottoes and grovels of the underground
Upon which the city was built
By nameless women and men,
As I ponder what to give you were you
In the flesh before me as I know myself now
By the repetition of meals.
In this underheated room with water running down
The windowpane, I conjure you again
In far fields when you were a spring blossom and we
Had danced to receive the sun.
And I had given you something three-leafed that was
Not a clover and it had startled you into magic.
Magic now is my defense against loss and memory.
It is the shield that I protect the memories
No currency can purchase, for they were
What you had given me to ease
Me through this temporal tunnel
That some call time itself.
Within the mist of the world,
my own mist of being,
as rain drops cling
to tips of branches.
Reluctant to let go
that ill-defined resignation,
as far hills chill my limbs,
that reluctance again!
This time inside my bones,
the knowledge I was never
the man I thought I was,
merely slate, I was,
and now, erased.
I am glad to be empty –
to hold nothing,
and to have nothing,
20 paces from the bus stop
I have lived in many rooms 20
paces from the bus stop,
where two men
stand back to back,
walk 10 paces, turn,
much insane laughter,
pigeons again flock
together the instant after,
in this neighborhood
of many dwellings
each with its own story.
I was merry a boy,
respectful of the law,
and in awe of higher education
that lead men to destinations
as the bus pulls up,
I realize I left my lunch.
What human business is best done at night,
when it costs candles to provide light?
And what military posture straight in the day
is best executed in the simplest way?
The heart without convolutions
will unthinkingly answer a midnight knock,
while, a heart coiled in the dark
is apprehensive of barking dogs.
“In a dark time the eye begins to see”
all the foul hearts on the ceiling above,
blacker than black, espousing brotherly love,
like adding white sugar to saccharine tea.
But brothers, all I need is a simple love,
as delivered by the feather of a single dove.
Then, I can turn the corner past midnight,
winning the war without a fight…
Apologies to Lorca
I am in a city without time
while the three friends ascend the green balustrade
to view from the balcony the changeless sea.
I am in a house without a number
where food & sex are being squeezed out of tubes
and sleep and meals come at unpredictable hours,
as deep beneath the green water
lie, fathoms deep, sunken Greek ships full of
Maria hides behind the purple curtains when
the three friends descend the balustrade
talking of white horses with black manes,
comparing the saddle to the mantle piece.
By & by came Lorca himself,
speaking sadly to his friends:
“Mocitoes, if I am able, this house is your house,
and your horse is my horse,
but I am no longer I & my house is no longer my house.”
The three friends bid the old man adios
and vanished in the Andalusian air.
Sadly from Maria's green, green eyes,
silver tears begin to flow
when the moon climbs further with the night.
I am now in a city without name,
as the three friends gallop from the high mountain pass,
headng to the water, where silvery streaks
in the moonlight tell again of sorrows, where on the beach
there is a note in a bottle
with the script of the Chinese Empress no one can read.
Leaving the bottle on the sand,
the three friends gallop now to another city,
another city without time,
as the waves undulant, undulant roll in,
and beneath these fathoms of green, green water,
lie sunken ships with useless corroding treasures.
A small water falls
There was a waterfall, wasn’t there?
It numbered my childhood years in Guangzhou.
To the outskirts of the city where
women hauled honey-buckets
bokchoy grew as fast as bamboo.
Short pines dotted the landscape, the water was
cooler than insipid political discussions.
The water continues to fall,
not seeking anyone’s permission,
but who would oppose water?
Our school was on an outing.
Teachers related ghost stories
under the kerosene light.
We were too young to judge
the veracity of those stories or
to know how significantly
it may be in our young lives to come.
We were scared, nevertheless, and
of course this is so.
Those fears remained until this day –
That if you swim alone,
the ghosts of boys drowned in those lakes
will pull you under,
like Icarus who drowned without notice.
As memory can be jarred
by gunshots or something unpleasant,
in contrast, as immigrant to the Pacific Northwest,
where the water is cooler
but not less plentiful, I have new words for water,
“water,” or “H2O.”
New words still point to water, the democratic
designation of this vital fluid,
where in the Delta they sang,
“I never missed my water
‘til the day my well went dry…”
That small waterfall still looms
large in my memory. So there was
a certain leaping of water, over rocks
without tripping, and when I look back,
my back is to my future, but how delicious
was the little waterfall, the source that never ends
Born in a village near Canton, China, Koon Woon immigrated to Washington State in 1960. He earned a BA from Antioch University Seattle and studied at Fort Hays State University. He is the author of The Truth in Rented Rooms (Kaya, 1998), winner of a Josephine Miles Award from PEN Oakland, and Water Chasing Water (Kaya, 2013), winner of the 2014 American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. His poetry appears in Premonitions: The Kaya Anthology of New Asian North American Poetry (1995), among others. Woon is the publisher of Goldfish Press and the literary magazine Chrysanthemum. He lives in Seattle.
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