Wednesday 5 May 2021

5 Poems by Koon Woon


Nostalgia – 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

Turbulent river.

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

Come alive

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,

and shoot.


Pigeons disperse,

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

corroding treasures.


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

in giving.  


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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