Friday 5 May 2023

5 Poems by Koon Woon


Heart – my most hurt.
Missing – my most you.

Is this moon the same moon?
This wilderness the same wilderness
where I left you many immigrant
years ago?

Butterflies, dragonflies, and a “noiseless,
patient spider” inhabit my verse,
as I spin out love for you,
while the muddy Pearl empties into South China Sea.

My heart was left behind in the village yard and
I will come back to answer its thumping call,
will come back for you and the succulent
lychee fruit, will consummate together
its juice and meat.

The Essentialist Story

This is a peanut butter sandwich day –
that kind of day, yes,
and let the marshmallows roast in the beach-
combing fire – the sweet sugary smell.
See the kelp and the seaweed,
among other heroes in the sand,
laying bare the mysteries of the sea.

The sea – whence you came;
the sea - where you return - when
all turmoil and tribulation are past,
and the brief breast-beating ceases too;
we were all young once.

The essential mistakes that we made
have propelled us along the coastline –
the fractals, your battered guitar, the 68 Plymouth,
fishing rod and reel, a clam shovel, and all the hits
on the radio – we were traveling, we were going somewhere.

The essential error was that we were all traveling –
going somewhere, but that was the saving grace too.
We were too young to know that fix-points were everywhere.

Brick by Brick

Sixty years ago now,
are you still counting your village
brick by brick, flower by flower, and bee by bee?

The house you were born in has collapsed,
your district is different now on the map,
even your mind is not the same;
you have learned, trick by trick.
You know now Dick, Jane,
their children; Hank and Elaine.

Forget about the old Tao;
the new Dow is loss and gain.
Forget about sunflowers;
don’t recall the muddy monsoons.
Think soy futures, hog bellies,
high towers and real estate.
Let bamboo thickets and wine vats lay in ruins.

The arms that rocked you,
now dead and buried without a tune.
The hands that guided you across the village yards,
gnarled now without social parts.
You can’t go back in time
to whistle archaic rimes,
absolutely or in space age time.

Wipe that grimace from memory.
It was a trick you played on yourself
that haunted you through the years.
Truly, the pigs never liked the slop,
roosters didn’t parade their tails,
but cicadas on tree tops
did buzz like alarm clocks.
You still can hurry so as not to miss your

The Four Modalities

Always wishing the world was something
else, aren’t you?
The world is the world and it consists
of these things:
Rain, Snow, Sun, and Night.
Nothing more to worry about.

Rain pours like salt and you need it.
Snow needs plowing and you got the job.
Sun, ha! We have one and that’s enough.
And Night, night is when you cry.

When they shut you out in the rain,
something you don’t want to forget,
drenched, you go
where they think better of you.

Snow is a bit flaky, covering the world
in forgetfulness where battles have been fought
and men slain. In the vast white field,
human appendages stick out.

And sun, we love its warmth,
but it kills too, baking the mud
and boiling the water away.

Night is fearsome; no one can hold it back.
Go gentle into it,
regardless what invisible
Black Hand of Night
had tossed the die.

The Rails
- For Hai Zi (Zha Haisheng), 1964 - 1989

Hear the rails hum, my little hobo;
hear the lullaby of wind.
Go to sleep, my little hobo;
breathe the brevity of wind.

Hear the rails hum, my little hobo as
something colossal galvanizes the land.
As I lift my pen, little hobo, iron monsters
begin tearing our last pockets of land.

We have lain the tracks; we’ve lain
them as straight as we can, and so
go to sleep, my little hobo, as I listen
for your words carried by the wind.

The wind accosts us but we cannot talk back.
It is not for us to know we know.
So, go to sleep, my little hobo, let your
unending dreams be carried by the wind.


China-born Chinese-American poet Koon Woon is the recipient of a Pen Oakland Award and an American Book Award with his two poetry collections published by Kaya Press (

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