Sunday, June 21, 2015

Poetry Jam #19

I wasn't lying before when I said I was near the end of my backlog of poetry.  But then I kept writing poetry for months, without keeping up the pace on this blog.  So, there's a backlog again.  But that's not really so bad, right?

The first poem is something I recently found buried on my phone, back from the Sangnok days of early 2014.  But the other fourteen date from October to December of that year.  Needless to say, it was a very emotional time for me.  Putting this post together, I found myself quite proud of many of these new poems despite their bittersweet associations, so I hope you enjoy them.

A Blaze of Something

Window shopping
for a way to go,
the most expedient,
least expensive,
bang-for-buckiest
path to immortality
(in the strictly
metaphorical sense)
that won't burn down
the talent show.


The Last Human Beings

The month was June, and he was breathing
easy in the field of grass
as she was dancing through the flowers,
sunlight falling on her knees;
an orange glow of sun surrounded
them, a gentle hum of bees.

The blue above his eyes was swirling
like a painted sheet of glass;
his slender limbs could be mistaken
for the bodies of the trees,
their freckled branches growing slowly
from a central freckled mass.

The dappled green across her sundress
fluttered in the seasoned breeze,
the way the pollen of the poppies
turns to honey, the finest class
of sweets; and each revealing candy
scent was perfume to the lass.

 And she was laughing like a spirit,
dazzling the peonies
while he was captive to the moment,
threading roots beneath the grass
and thinking less about tomorrow
than the business of the bees.

Their never-ending summer morning
drifted from the alpine pass
as rivers flow from skies to oceans;
she as fluid as the seas
and he a slumbering willow trunk,
enchanted by her naked knees.


It Takes a Lot

Perhaps it takes a second,
all it takes to pass
the threshold, all it takes
to close the gap: it takes
my breath, it takes your breath,
it takes some getting used to,
then it takes control.


Wandering Hands

A hand in the dark, it reaches for
another hand, it finds its mate,
it gives itself a lusty squeeze,
it shudders on a sweet release:
the lights are flashing.  On and off
they flash, like crosses thrust from the hills
in the storm of the century.  Lightning strikes
and fingers burn, and hands are twitching
through themselves beneath the covers.
A fingernail hits the spot.


Three Hours

The moon was never brighter than the night
the sky was almost blue; a blinding white
face was casting shadows on the mist
and wreathing tombstones in a pale twist
of spider webs and fey October light,
raising up a ghostly autumn's tryst.

A tardy summer night
was closing up its fist:
the brilliant satellite
that flickered like a kite
at sea could not resist,
the ocean must insist.

We kissed,
and missed
the sprite's
eclipse,
the sleight
of night.


Mad Republic

This mad republic on the sea
is damaged public property.
It drifts between the oceans blue
like wreckage from a ship of freight,
bobbing up and down with waves
and sea foam soaking through the crates.

 This mad republic on a hill,
its beacon shines abroad at will,
its lights and shadows much more brusque
than lovely, crooked skyline stark
against the hopeful sun, a dusky
star of shame above the Earth.

This mad republic in the sky,
an eagle's fortress on the fly
where Earthlings tumble from the ledge
without a social safety net;
their steam punk fashion rules the air
before they meet the planet's edge.

This mad republic in your house
has spilled some lager on your blouse -
they tell you to go change your clothes,
they hoot and watch you take it off.
These party-goers hack and cough
like mobsters in a smoke-filled bar.

This mad republic's on a slide
and getting blisters from the ride.
The water's dead, the sun is dim,
the air is thick with clouded heads
and every word's subliminal,
the parties all political.


Bringing Home the Bacon

Behind the bunker with my little bell,
I softly click my way across the morning,
making noise to keep the office calm,
my eyes aside to give sufficient warning.

A secret message for my sweetie, stashed
beneath the stone to keep its contents covered
and my cover sound: my heart's own work,
a fine respite from being slowly smothered.

My thoughts divided by the task at hand,
the touch of skin, these distant, abstract players,
memories of fingers soft as gloves,
and plastic keys arrayed in offset layers.

Now something must come out of me, like rhyme
or sex or reasoned work, a stain on papers,
thin electric squiggles on the screen,
sincere attempts to clear my head of vapors.

I help myself to something, chocolate squares
more bitter than I'd like, not half as tasty
as a proper sweet should be, and vow
that I can bear it, I shall not be hasty.

To watch the minutes counting slowly down
from zero to infinity, the dripping
drip drip drip of honey on my mind
is almost pleasure, flower fields and skipping

through a summer day in any month;
no matter if I'm stuck above the higher
floors today, I'll simply make the time
to contact you across the signal wire.


Wug_

This is a Wug.
There is no other Wug,
and that is a pity.

Only one Wug,
no plural form exists:
no cause for existence

carries the Wug,
and nothing can be learned
by such example.

This is a Wug.
This one is always blue,
and so is every Wug.


Six Years Later

We never got to live like heroes,
never got to see the walls come down
and hear the trumpets bray
a satisfying
blast.

We didn't find ourselves delivered
when the final outcomes were announced,
or glimpse the promised shore
beyond the splintered
mast.

We swore we did, but we were lying:
to ourselves, to mitigate the pain,
to steel our tender nerves
for when these votes were
cast.

We thought the future wouldn't matter
if the present felt so pure and good.
The present disappointed
when the moment
passed.


How Adults Speak to Each Other

"Happy Labor Day", September,
"Happy Veteran's Day", November;

in between, the daggers stab
and blood is drawn, the fingers jabbing

accusations of betrayal,
threats of murder through the mail.

Torrents of obscene abuses
strip the paint from shallow truces,

but let's get the kids together
for this fine October weather,

push our daughters on the swings
and make a show of wholesome things.

We're back in court on Monday noon,
our talons bared, and none too soon.


Missing

I'm afraid of all this missing mass:
the hiding places multiplying fast,
the sinking feeling filling up my gut.
Yes, I think my body's in a rut.

Yes, I know I said I'd take a ride
to find myself with nothing else inside,
to empty all this garbage in the street:
I'm avoiding all this missing meat.


What's the Word on the Street?

It's a new sign of the times
they've painted on the wall:
it's warning "keep out lefty,
streets are private property".

It's a bill for all the wrongs
they're serving instead of rights:
"Bruises are a privilege
and the tear gas costs extra".

It's a letter to the girls
who didn't make it safely
past a row of billy clubs:
it says "you had it coming".

It's a fairy tale they tell
the boys who walk too proudly:
the moral of the story
is "you sure had it coming".

It's a lie they told to get
elected, one of many:
"we can keep your children safe,
you know that you can trust us".

It's the motto on his badge,
like laughter in a dying
face, a steep humiliation:
"we are to protect and serve".

It's an angry eulogy
delivered, years to early:
"the child didn't have to die,
and we won't take this again".


Wishful Thinking

Sometimes I feel short of breath:
I'm choking down the stale spit
and I forget to stop and breathe.
The puzzle piece will never fit

if someone tries to force it in,
so why am I so adamant?
 I swear I'm gonna twist my spine
from underneath this elephant

that on my sloping shoulders sits
before this lonely month is through.
I've seen some very welcome sights,
but no relief as sweet as you.

I've slept in perfect summer nights
a thousand dreams and more with you.

I'll never lose the smallest bit
as long as I can comfort you.


Iron

With iron in your heart
you might explore the seas
at depths so fearful, none
would dare to follow you.
You'll sink beneath the waves,
your blood will pump a heavy
burden through your veins,
and wonders you could never
have predicted will
delight your fragile senses -
overwhelm your heart
and work the fragile thing
to death.
                And though you gasp
for oxygen, the divers
who will find your corpse
will not discover much
but iron in your heart.

The things you saw, descending
past the cities lost
and monsters inky black
that sliced through crystal beams
of sun and sparkly fish,
and all the wisdom sunk
beneath the bottom sand
in ships of pitch and gold,
will not avail a heart
so compromised, will not
redeem the long descent,
refund the drowning gasps,
restore you to the sky
with iron in your heart.


A Heroine Storming the Gate of the Gods

A girl with eyes like hour glasses
guards the wall with fierce alarms.
A boy with hair like burning grass is
holding out his steely arms -
between the two of them, they wield
seven blades in hands and teeth.

Before my last approach, they yield
not an inch: no sword in sheath,
no friendly words of welcome, nor a
warning of their cruel intent.

Afar I saw their weapons bore a
trace of murder.  Letters, bent
across the curving of the metal,
spelled the names of victims loved
and lovers crushed to death like petals
finely pampered, rudely shoved
between the leaves that formed the steel.

Eyes of doom survey the state
for blood to lubricate the wheel
holding shut the iron gate.

They see my face, they know the reason
I must breach their sacred wall,
and hungrily they meet my treason
with a holy, savage fall.

The battle, fierce and wild, splits
my armor; lying in the dirt
in pieces, as my target flits
about the scene, this mail shirt
cannot deflect her flensing knives
nor counteract his cleaving sword.

But blessings from a thousand lives
empower me; my wounds ignored,
I hold my ground, I keep my feet.

And though I bleed, a careful strike
with mighty arm and fingers fleet
can shatter guards and gods alike.

Her face is sundered on a slate
and I do not adore the sight:
his blood has wet the iron gate,
the witness to his final fight,
and all their blessed blades are broken.

Innocent they seem, a pair
of handsome lovers softly spoken,
but their guilt pollutes the air
that flows beneath this carnage hill,
as hate corrupts an honest tear.

I pay the price, the gods I kill,
the gate is raised, the way is clear,
I cast aside my tainted glove
and reach across a sea of flowers -
now I may embrace my love
again, enshrined with higher powers.

____________________

How about some commentary?

As I mentioned above, I found a picture of A Blaze of Something written on a white board while looking through my phone the other day.  I had completely forgotten about it, but as I recall we were putting on an actual talent show at the time.  So, call it idle scribbling.

The Last Human Beings is something I wrote shortly after coming back to America, inspired by the climate and weather of the great state of Oregon.  I like it for the rhymes, and of course for the dreamy imagery.   I was going for a Tolkien-esque vibe, something recalling both animate trees and the Beren/Lúthien legend, because I am an incredibly nerdy person.

It Takes a Lot and Wandering Hands are both poems about sexual longing from afar.  The latter is also colored by a scene from the book The Haunting of Hill House, which I had just read.  Is it weird to mix those things up?  I think it might be a little weird.  I wrote other sexual poems around the same time, but they are either badly unfinished or creepy or just, well, bad.

Three Hours was written on the night of a total lunar eclipse that was visible in Oregon last fall.  I think the rhymes are neat, and of course the poem's structure is evocative of an eclipse.  Isn't it?  It's supposed to be, anyway.

I wrote Mad Republic shortly before the midterm elections of 2014.  You know the one, where our country committed itself to at least two years of even-more-regressive bullshit than usual?  Like most people, of course, I saw it coming.  I like some of the stanzas of this poem less than others, but I think they add up to something good on the whole.  It expresses my feelings about more than just that one election of course: partly, I think it was some of that reverse-culture shock people get when they return from living abroad.

Six Years Later is more directly about the election, and more melancholy than angry.  It's something any person of any political orientation can relate to after a bad election night, I think.  But it was written more for people who agree with me... so, hands off, other side.

Bringing Home the Bacon just makes me sad now, as it is basically what the words describe it as: a secret message to my sweetheart, back when I still had a sweetheart.  Then it got filed away into the poetry pile, and I never got a chance to share it with her.

Wug_ is a very silly poem that (I hope) is funny to people who know a bit about linguistics.  If you don't know so much, just google "wug test" to find out what exactly a "wug" has to do with plurals.  The last stanza also has a little joke based on the fact that I wrote it next to a drawing of a wug on blue paper.  That, obviously, has not been reproduced here.

I was working in my dad's law firm at this time, and I had the opportunity to read some correspondence between people involved in one of our cases.  The level of pettiness I encountered in those emails was the inspiration for How Adults Speak to Each Other.

Missing is an uncomfortable poem for me, having been written shortly after Thanksgiving while I was feeling anxious about gaining back the weight I'd lost in Korea.  You know when you've made something, and you're not really sure if you should have?  I feel that way about Missing.

What's the Word on the Street? was written in the midst of the Ferguson protests, when the grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown.  Its perspective, obviously, is in solidarity with the growing movement demanding justice for the lives of black people killed by police brutality, a perennial threat that shows no sign of abating on its own.  I like some of the metrical stuff I did here, but I want the focus to be on the content.

In early December, my ex told me she wanted to go on a break, and to be frank it fucked me up pretty bad.  Wishful Thinking and Iron were early attempts to express my feelings through my poetry.  Of the two, Iron is superior by far, at least in my estimation.  It might even be my favorite poem of this bunch, although it hurts me somewhat to read it over again.

And finally, we come to my mini-epic, A Heroine Storming the Gate of the Gods.  By far the longest poem I've ever written (52 lines!) and on of my more successful narratives.  At least, that's what I think.  Maybe it sucks and nobody else will like it.  I wrote most of it on Christmas, and I'm not sure when exactly I finished it.  Just a little something to keep the yuletide blues away.  Originally it was written without any breaks between stanzas, in that authentic heroic verse sort of way, but I inserted breaks between each sentence just to make it more readable.  The one thing that really bothers me is the last word of line 46, "tear".  It rhymes with line 48, "clear", but it comes just after the rhyming lines of 42 and 44, "pair" and "air".  The fact that 48 is in the next stanza just makes this confusion worse.  I am so, so sorry for this.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Run in the Life

I have never been consistent with exercise in my life.  Circumstances have rarely allowed me to be totally inactive, but like many people I grew to regard it as a chore, rather than a natural part of my daily existence.  I exercise because it's good for me, not because it fits organically with the rest of my life; and that's assuming I exercise at all. 

That's why whenever I adopt any sort of intense physical routine, it always ends up feeling like a project.  The kind of thing some hack director might make a documentary of, something like "my month of huffing and puffing before succumbing to the inertia of habit".  And in a way, I guess that's what this post is: documentation of the particular gauntlet I'm pushing myself through these days.

It would be narcissistic to just assume that you (the reader) care about the specifics of my sweaty exertions.  But since returning to Eugene, I've been trying to take better care of myself, both physically and mentally.  Exercise is a big part of that, and in writing about it I hope to encourage myself.  If it's of interest to anyone else, that's gratifying too.

So here's what I do, and I've been doing it for about a week now: some time between the hours of noon and two o'clock, I put on some gym-type clothes and walk about three quarters of a mile to the start of a running trail in Amazon Park.  I find myself at the head of the trail, located on the corner of 24th and Amazon Parkway.  I do some quick stretches, take some deep breaths, and admire what has thus far been some very pleasant weather.

We have such wonderful parks in town, it's a shame not to go run around in circles through them.
And then, the running starts.  If it's not obvious, I am not in what you might call "excellent physical shape".  I'm certainly not conditioned for any kind of distance running, though I'm a fair enough sprinter over (very) short distances.  So until the day I develop the necessary stamina, I limit my speed to what one might call a slow trot.  The goal is to get my heart rate up, rather than cover great distances or move at high speeds.

About a hundred meters down the way is the start of a one kilometer loop, and that is the course I follow.  Thus far, I have stuck to running one loop per day.  Experienced runners may scoff, or encourage me to try for more, but believe me, I'm only being realistic about what my body can do right now.  The first time I did this run, I almost threw up afterwards.  Since then I've become more and more used to the effort, but I don't want to push myself too soon and wind up hating the activity, or being angry at my body.  If this running is supposed to be good for me, then it should probably feel good when I do it.

The dirt beneath my feet is soft, and the trail is usually quiet and (mostly empty).  Cars noisily drive by just to the right, but the setting still feels very peaceful and natural, and I find it a perfect time and place for thought and reflection.  A properly paced run, it turns out, can be the ideal background activity for many kinds of thinking.  Sometimes it's a struggle to keep negative thoughts at bay, just like at any other time, but it seems like committing my whole body to one task has a way of blunting their impact.  Perhaps I'm not as mindful as I aim to be, but on the whole I don't feel bad, and that's a victory as far as I'm concerned.

Just after the loop turns back, and just before the six hundred meter post, is a park bench where I like to stop and rest for a few minutes.  I'm not completely out of breath by this point, though I am still not entirely sure if I could run the whole thing without stopping.  Of more immediate concern is the pain in my calf muscles.  Maybe it's poor technique, or maybe it's just lack of conditioning, but by the four hundred meter post my legs are usually aching noticeably, and I'm grateful for a chance to recover.  I sit on the bench, feel my heartbeat, gently stretch and massage my calves, and appreciate the natural beauty of the scene.


One of my short-term goals, of course, is to complete the loop without having to stop.  Hopefully my legs will soon become more cooperative in that regard.  But for now, I think it's good to have a moment to sit in silence and let the world happen all around me.  In the distance I can usually hear kids playing at the swimming pool, or animals moving around in the grass and in the creek.  Sometimes runners or dog-walkers pass by.  I've walked through this trail many times in my life, and all of these things are familiar to me.  But it's a comfort to experience them all the same, knowing they're as much of the world in this moment as I am.

Once my legs are back in order and my heartbeat has gone down again, I stretch some more, take some deep breaths, and trot out the last four hundred-plus meters, back to the start of the loop. The sun's behind the trees now and I have a little more shade, which is gratifying, but the workout is much the same as it was on the other side.  This time I have the creek on my right and a view of the park's grassy lawn

The end of the loop has a drinking fountain and another bench, usually just the thing I'm looking for.  But something notable happened today: I found that after taking a sip and walking back to the bench, I didn't really want to sit down.  My legs ached, yes, but not quite as much as they had before, and not quite enough to sit down.  As I said before, I've been at this for about a week now, and it's remarkable to think how quickly my body is adjusting to its new demands. 
This particular trail is sponsored by Adidas, a bit of an eyebrow-raiser in this Nike town.
I'm not sure when I'll be pushing for plural kilometers, or increase my speed, or even how long this particular regimen will last. If today's any indication, I certainly have it in me in the near future to really work up a sweat (without doubling over in unendurable pain).  Working out in the park is a lot different from using an elliptical machine or a treadmill at the gym: it's harder on the feet for one thing, but it also requires a different kind of goal setting.  There's no screen in front of you to count out the minutes or suggest benchmarks to hit: you need more determination to get the same benefit.    Still, I think I'm adjusting to it well.

My primary goal achieved, it's time to walk back home.  Walking is an exercise in its own right, of course, and among other things this routine allows me a good excuse to walk more when I might otherwise be sitting.  Running or walking, it feels good to get out and move.  When I finally return, it feels even better to wash the red dust off my feet and cool down in the shower.

So that's my run, today and hopefully for many days yet to come.  I know that it's been a big improvement in my life, and I can't wait to draw more benefits for my mind and body from it.  They say humans were built for running, and while I've never really lived up to it with my sedentary lifestyle, it will be fascinating to discover what my body can really do.

Friday, June 19, 2015

That One-In-A-Million Update

Here I am, poking my head out of the bunker to observe the devastation all around me.

What's that?  The world is still spinning?  Some measure of cheer can still be found amongst humans?

You forget these things while living under a rock. Not that I've been living under any actual rocks.  In point of fact, I've spent much of the last several months in a state of depression.  While many aspects of my life have gone on much as they have, one thing that I neglected pretty seriously was this blog, as you can plainly see.

Let's start with the cold facts for any future biographers: I live in Oregon once again, having long since realized that it is where I feel most comfortable.  I am single, looking for love again but trying to reconcile myself to the fact that the search may be long.  I'm working on getting my teaching certification renewed, and hunting for work so that I can finally establish my independence.  I saw a therapist for a few months while I was still living in San Diego, and now I'm looking into seeing another.  I'm hoping that I can really improve on the mental health front, because I finally realized this year that I have been living under completely unnecessary conditions for most of my life. 

Back to this blog here... I want to write more.  I haven't completed a story in a very long time, and producing stories is something that, however crude the result or minimal the response, I've always taken a certain amount of pride and satisfaction in.  Lately, the only things I've been able to write are poems.  Goodness knows I love writing poetry, but I want to write more.  More, more, more.

And yet, I am unsure about continuing on this particular blog platform.  My experience on Wordpress for the Korea blog my ex and I had was positive.  Despite my persistent lack of any real following online, I feel like I might get more follower-interaction there, which might more easily sustain my activity.  I don't know, the grass just looks greener over there, I guess.  Maybe all I want is a clean break with something, and a new blog is as good as anything else.

So I'll keep thinking on that.  In the meantime, I'm going to try really hard to write and make things appear on this blog, and if nothing else bring it into position for some kind of dignified send-off.  And I'll try to keep myself happy and sane, so that I can move on from what has been a rather difficult time in my life.  I don't know how many of you are out there, but I appreciate your support.

A final thought occurs.  This is the 200th published post on this blog.  A fitting milestone for ruminations of doom!  I can't think of any particular way to celebrate, except perhaps by celebrating life.  So here's a feel-good summertime song about that:


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Poetry Jam #18

So soon?  Yes, I'll be picking up the pace on the poetry posts for a little bit.  I'm happy with this, because poetry has grown into one of my favorite forms of creative writing.  Hopefully, you readers will be pleased as well.

Thus far, I have kept a large backlog of unposted poetry in my journal and on various electronic media.  As a result, the poems I post on this blog tend to be several months old, or perhaps a year or more.  Lately, I've found this system less helpful and logical, since sitting on my work for months at a time doesn't really change my perspective on it as much as I might hope.  On top of that, I recently started posting some of my old (and less terrible) poems on my Tumblr blog, and this experience has helped me realize that I really have improved quite a bit in the many years I've been at this.  I feel more confident in displaying my work with a significantly shorter time delay.

So here's seventeen poems, written between July and September of 2014; the last set of poems I wrote before I returned to America from South Korea.  They all have their qualities and I'm happy to share them.  There are references to sex, blood, death, and other strong themes in a few of them.

__________

Brutes

The weather spoils
a vendor's cart
of tender fruits.

The umbrella twists
and my feet are soaked
in spite of my boots.

I doubt that it could
be any worse -
then somebody shoots.

A body writhes;
the wind is wrestling
back its roots.

I never thought
I'd be so afraid
of men in suits.


The Ballad of Bad Science

Eric stripped the power line
and Ernie stole the juice,
Then Emma stuck the wire in
the Pleasure-Droid's caboose.

Now the robot's running naked
through the forest like a moose,
immodest as a peacock,
anatomically a spruce.

At first the droid was harmless,
but its moral sense was loose:
it frightened all the campers
with its flagrant self-abuse.

Poor Eric was arrested first,
but no one could deduce
where Em  and Ernie fled to
when they set the sex-bot loose.

They never caught the robot with
the wire in its caboose;
the horny folk who try are only
chasing wild goose.


Spiderweb Hill

I didn't know its name
before I broke
the seventh spider web,
and pulled the silk
in sticky little strands
across my cheek;
these awful tourist traps
were laid to keep
transgressors like myself
off Spiderweb Hill.


A Tragic Jeju Sestina

He fell like water from the beach,
and she was carried with the tide
a thousand meters out to sea;
Precarious, un-anchored sand
could not support the ocean's weight,
and neither could volcanic cliffs.

The lovers, standing on the cliffs,
had left impressions on the beach
below; a memory of weight
and heavy breathing with the tide
was sunk into the yielding sand,
then swallowed by the rising sea.

That night, the hungry man could see
the darkness shining on the cliffs,
a silver moon-shade on the sand;
the woman heard the naked beach
lamenting the arriving tide,
the pressure of the ocean's weight.

They disappeared beneath its weight,
those voices silenced by the sea;
the woman felt his fingers tied
with hers, she felt a strength like cliffs
erupting from the mortal beach,
a sterner strength than flowing sand.

But they had laid upon the sand
and left impressions with their weight;
the memories that marked the beach
were disappearing with the sea,
and even those titanic cliffs
had lost some surface to the tide.

The man was first to go: the tide
had drained his youth, the fickle sand
had shifted, undermined the cliffs;
the aging woman lingered, waited
for her time to join the sea
where she last saw him on the beach.

The tide is like a heavy weight;
the sand submitting to the sea
while cliffs are yielding to the beach.


Normal, Long Black Hair

There's a monster living in my town.
She wears her head on backwards,
but today she's walking backwards too:
you'd almost think her normal
with her normal, long black hair,
until you looked down and saw her toes,
her shins, her knees, her breasts,
all under normal, long black hair,
and going the wrong way.
It's nice to see her change her pace,
her face was more disturbing
in its backwards way;
I'd prefer a longer glimpse
of her normal, long black hair.


Commute

And to think I heard the crash
from seven blocks away,
the sound that didn't matter
of the wreck that changed my life,
the twisted beam that stopped
my heart,
the hours
of waiting
for the news
I didn't
want,
the whisper of the truth
that put my walls to rubble,
and the sorry, sudden death
that tore my ribs to shreds
and
left
me
all
alone.


The Androgyne's Song (Part 1)

Awakened on the warmth of dusty ground,
a half-remembered dream, as soon discarded
as the sleep, a consciousness unbound -
such grave sensations carefully regarded.
Their thriving mind as fresh as morning dew,
the sky as barren as the desert sand,
they turned their eyes toward the dawn, this new
attendant of an old, abandoned land.
The Androgyne, we call them, though they never
knew the Greek, bestrode their tiny Earth,
Their ears in tune to life, a brain so clever
they perceived themself, and knew from birth
their destiny amidst the painted stone:
to foster growth and cease to be alone.


The Conservatives

This rebellion may attract you
when your house is in arrears,
but the crown will pay you handsome
for the heads of mutineers.

The old regimes will try to corner
you, and prey upon your fears;
whispers of the cruelest rumors
find their way to frightened ears.

Revolutions are averted
by their ruthless engineers,
while the blood and sweat of freedom
fighters lubricate the gears.


Garbage

All the useless garbage in my way
is not the sort of thing you touch, that makes
you want to wash the filthy smell away;
the filthiest of all is what he takes.

The biggest chunk of greasy, rotten trash
that odors up my room is empty spaces,
wasted time and effort: how it clashes
with the hopeful scent it would replace.


Heap of Computer

Useless gifts from above,
they let you know
that someone really loves
you in this place:
a pair of crippled doves
to make the peace,
an old, soiled glove
across your face.


Someone Sent Me Flowers Every Night

Someone sent me flowers every night
this week, the kind of yellow, fragile things
that wilt with too much water, too much light.

When my world wasn't feeling bright
and all these somber thoughts were gathering,
someone sent me flowers every night:

anonymous, in sleeves of paper, slightly
bruised in transit, tulips they would bring
that wilt with too much water, too much light.

They made a wan impression, almost white,
all pressed together with a tightened string:
someone sent me flowers every night,

Am I to hope they understand my plight?
Or am I pitiful, like the drooping kings
who wilt with too much water, too much light?

As if my troubles weren't enough to write
a song, the very devil's bitch to sing,
someone sent me flowers every night
that wilt with too much water, too much light.


Gangbuk Voyeur

I always found it easier
to see outside my walls
than peer inside a window -
something about the lines of sight,
and who'd deny this seventh story height
will make a difference?
That's why I feel so comfortable
standing naked at my window
and gazing down at shops and shoppers,
gardens on their rooftops
and elliptical machines
in motion under black lights in the gym.
I've always found it easier
looking down and out;
it makes me feel more confident
than looking up and in.


Too Much

Before the party's over,
I want to do too much -
cocaine or schnapps or Mountain Dew,
it doesn't matter much.

I want to be excessive,
to take excessive moves,
have too much sex, or rock n' roll,
or bossa nova grooves.

I want to hurt my body
with a toxin or a vice,
to sleep for twenty hours
on a feather pillow, twice

as many hours playing
Donkey Kong in bed;
forget the drugs and alcohol,
some tea would serve instead.

I want to eat some doughnuts
and miss an interview;
it sounds too cute to say, but I
should share so much with you.


Watch the Mountainside

If you travel in a rainy place,
be sure to watch the mountain side: observe
the subtle ways the weather hides its face,
the warning every mountain has to serve.
Is it coyly masked with wisps of cloud,
revealing, as a tease, a gentle shower?
Or while the thunder blasts are booming loudly,
is it cloaked in heavy sheets of power?
The mist that crawls across the mountainside
is all the omen nature will allow;
so wonder, as the smoky waters glide
away, what dangers must await you now?
The rainy season's time is soon to go,
the mountain keeps the secrets it may know.


Clear Skies over Namhae

The phoenix glides for years
behind the rising moon;
the tide is coming in.

Every second lasts, it nears
infinity again;
the tide is coming in.

The great bird's shadow hears
the rushing of the surf;
the tide is coming in

And bringing lunar tears
to light across the sand;
the tide is coming in.

The phoenix disappears
before it flaps a wing;
the tide is coming in.

The rising moon adheres
a halo to itself;
the tide is coming in.


Going Home

In a mirror, sitting,
twice as distant; eating
bibimbap as slowly
as a sideways glance.

The bean sprouts and the pepper
paste, a satisfaction,
kicking like the steam
that rises, twice as distant
from the hot stone pot.

In the kitchen, burning
rice against the dolsot -
crisp and dry like seedlings
in the summer, twice
as distant from the stove
as from the hungry mouth.


Warrior Queen

There's a woman with an old tattoo
who's swimming in the river.
She's a lion with an eagle's wings -
the ancient markings give her
something dangerous, an eye that's true
and arrows in her quiver.
Heady brews of ink and magic bring
a fire to her liver.
____________________

Brutes started out as just a rhyme exercize, inspired by a walk home from work during a windy storm.  As I reached for more rhymes, it sort of turned into a noir vignette about a mafia street assassination.  Or something like that, anyway.

I wrote The Ballad of Bad Science partly in the shower, trying to think of something funny and bawdy (since I don't really do that often in my writings).  What's more funny/bawdy than a masturbating robot?  Seriously, I can't think of anything.  That may tell you something about me.

When Tara and I went on our summer vacation to Jeju island, our tour bus took us overnight to a port town called Mokpo.  It was early morning and most people were trying to sleep while we waited for our ferry, but I went for a little walk, and found a lookout point on top of a big hill.  I climbed it for the view, which was wonderful.  Less wonderful were the invisible spider webs I kept running into, and the presumably massive spiders that wove them.  Hence, Spiderweb Hill.

A Tragic Jeju Sestina is exactly what it sounds like, Jeju being the location of its composition and a sestina being a poem that uses six words in the particular pattern I've employed here.  Whenever I start writing poems in semi-obscure closed forms like this, you can probably be sure I've been re-reading The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry.  Anyway, I like this poem.  It has sex and death and sorrow, which is basically all you can ask for in a "tragic" poem.  And it still evokes the landscape of Jeju in my mind.  I was pleased with how fluidly the form suggested narrative possibilities to me.

I am not sure what, exactly, I saw that made me think I saw a girl with her head on backwards, but I saw some one in a crowd near our apartment in Uijeongbu that for a second made me think that's exactly what was going on.  So I wrote about it in a poem, and that poem is Normal, Long Black Hair.

Commute is a little awkward for me to talk about, because it was born of nothing except insecurity and paranoia.  Tara and I used to commute to different locations while we were working in Korea.  I would walk, but her school was further away so she would either take the train or bus.  It happened one evening that, while walking home, I heard what sounded like a car accident.  I kept walking, but my imagination started running wild and I didn't really feel OK until she got home.

A sonnet!  Lately I've become more inclined to this form.  The Androgyne's Song is sort of a creation myth, about a thinking being coming to life for the first time.  This being is neither masculine nor feminine, as the name suggests, and I tried to make the pronouns reflect this.  I had an idea years ago of writing a mini-epic about this, but it never fully happened.  This is Part 1, and the only part written thus far.  I can't say the rest won't be written, though!

The Conservatives illustrates a partisan political point, and it's pretty transparent.  I recently wrote another poem with the grisly imagery of blood being used as a mechanical lubricant, without remembering I'd done it here.  It makes me wonder where the hell I come up with these images.

So anyway, that thing where I lost my job happened in early August. I'm not going to get into all the details again.  Suffice it to say, I had a lot of free time to write poetry, and I wrote Garbage, Heap of Computer, and Someone Sent Me Flowers Every Night in quick succession.  I am especially proud of the last one, it's not easy to write villanelles.  I was going through some real emotions back then.

Gangbuk Voyeur, Too Much, and Watch the Mountainside were all written in the apartment that Tara and I moved to in Gangbuk after we left Uijeongbu.  I lived there for about a month, initially trying to obtain a new visa before I gave up/got denied and went home to America.  All of them roughly reflect my state of mind at the time.  Too Much is a little too cute, but that's just what I was going for. Going Home is from a little bit later, right before I left, and one of the last times I went out for lunch at a Korean restaurant.  I really miss those.

Less fraught with emotion is Clear Skies Over Namhae.  That poem is very much about the beauty of nature.  Tara and I took one last vacation together, camping on the beach on Namhae island.  As luck would have it, we were fortunate to see bio-luminescent plankton in the waves one night.  Combined with some cool cloud formations and a full moon, they inspired this poem.

I honestly can't remember the thing I saw or read about that inspired Warrior Queen.  I just know I really like it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Never Alone

Upper One Games presents a unique experience: a video game with a story based upon the legends and history of an indigenous people, made in cooperation with those very same people.  That background alone makes the game notable: what makes it worth playing is the great care with which it was put together.  The game is Never Alone, essentially a gift from the Iñupiat of northern Alaska to the rest of the world: a story told in their own language, faithfully derived from their own traditions.



One or two players control an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna, and an arctic fox, on their quest to uncover the source of an unending blizzard and save her village.  With her trusty bola and the fox's spiritual powers, they face elemental, supernatural, and very human challenges in a classic 2D platform context.  There are few mechanics that I haven't seen before, but they serve the story well and reinforce the game's core themes of cooperation and courage.

Never Alone is beautiful, and what's more it uses its visual prowess to further its storytelling aims.  One might be tempted to regard the Alaskan Arctic landscape as a desolate, featureless waste, but this game is determined to check that assumption.  Here we find gnarled woods and shadowy caves, violent seas and creaky ghost towns and yes, vast plains of ice and snow, all of it imbued with character by the most expressive snow and atmosphere effects outside of the real thing.  Even with graphical settings on low (I'm not working with the fiercest of machines here), the animation and art design are gracefully realized.

Mechanically, Never Alone could have benefited from a little more work.  Not only is the AI for the two player characters inconsistent, but difficult platforming moments are often as much a matter of luck as skill.  You can't really predict when a jump will inexplicably fail despite visibly landing safely, but you can be sure it will occur at least twice over a gap filled with freezing Arctic water.  If you're really lucky though, the AI will sometimes send your partner character far enough past a difficult challenge to reach the next checkpoint.  What I'm saying is, gameplay bugs can also work for you.

The gameplay is at its most interesting when it requires the close interplay of Nuna and the fox, and most challenging when they must cooperate quickly in extended, time-sensitive situations.  Naturally, this makes single-player mode an occasionally taxing experience, but the good news is that Never Alone genuinely wants you to succeed.  There is an embarrassment of checkpoints and rarely will the player have to redo more than two or three significant challenges following a tragic death.  Perhaps it goes against the traditional platformer's orthodoxy, but I say it's a positive development that many modern games don't want to let that one impossible level get in the way of telling their story.

For as smooth a play as possible, I'd recommend a controller.  I cleared this game using keyboard and mouse, and as far as I'm concerned their principal virtues lay in convincing me that I'd totally have made all those missed jumps with a more responsive piece of plastic in hand.  I don't know how you PC kids survived on WASD all these years, but I'll take a proper D-pad any day.

A secondary challenge in Never Alone is unlocking Cultural Insights, short documentary videos that tell the history of the Iñupiat and explain many elements found in the game.  While Never Alone is basically a fantasy, it achieves a much better grounding in realism than virtually any other fantasy game by pairing its mythical narrative with the voices of real Iñupiat people, who expound their culture not with dry reverence but warm, personal affection.  Too charming to feel like homework, the Cultural Insights educate in the best sense of the word, bringing the player closer to the real world of the Iñupiat while still feeling like genuine rewards.

I unlocked most of these videos, but my computer remains uncooperative in playing them correctly.  Fortunately, they can all be found on youtube, so I don't feel like I'm missing out.

I recommend this game highly, for fans of platformers and for those who want to learn more about indigenous cultures in a unique way.  Perhaps in a better world the jumping could have been tightened up, but Never Alone does so much right that it's hard to fault it for a little frustration.  It's accessible and beautiful and fun, and with a two-player mode it is begging to be shared.  It can also be a little bit scary and at one point (no spoilers) genuinely shocking, so play with care.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

 There be dragons, here be spoilers.

It's Christmas time again*, which means that Peter Jackson, the world's most well-funded Tolkien fan-fiction author, has once again delivered his signature gift: 144 minutes of fantasy adventure.  But unless a studio decides that the Silmarillion could actually make a profit, we may never again see its like.

Once upon a time, The Hobbit was spoken of as a two-film project.  I don't think anyone who was familiar with Jackson's take on Middle Earth was truly surprised that we wound up with a trilogy.  However, I think I can now point to the very specific reason why, for all the pacing awkwardness it created, the third movie came into being: this was Jackson's last chance to film an epic battle.  His lust for on-screen mayhem, much like the Arkenstone of Erebor, drove him to such reckless madness that he took what other filmmakers might call a climax and turned it into an entire movie.

Indeed, The Battle of the Five Armies is unique among the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films in that, apart from the introductory scene of Smaug's demise (which, let's be honest, should have been at the end of the last film), the plot more or less revolves around a single battle that takes up about half of the movie's running time (I may be being unfair on that point, as I did not check my watch, but it sure felt like it).  This movie is mostly about three things: assembling the five armies, an hour or so of heroic fighting and death, and a rapid and fairly uneventful walk home for Bilbo Baggins.  

The really odd thing about this movie is that it can't keep an eye on its titular character.  Theoretically the protagonist is Bilbo, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from his screen time. Therein lies the central flaw of this entire trilogy: The Hobbit, in its original form, is too small to bear the weight of all the history and mythology that Jackson includes.  While much of it (Gandalf's encounter with the Necromancer, for instance) is either basically canonical or reasonably inspired by canon, it is difficult to believe that Tolkien would have ever considered including those scenes in the narrative of The Hobbit.  Tolkien's book was essentially about Bilbo Baggins stumbling into an epic world of myth, while Jackson's movies often feel more like an attempt to toss him out of it.

As for Jackson's more original additions, the worst subplot of all is a running joke about the greed and cowardice of Alfrid, a series of scenes of no consequence to the plot.  After an initial craven outburst, the former aid to the Master of Laketown relentlessly sucks up to Bard, then spends the entirety of the battle attempting to disguise himself as a woman, shoving treasure in his bra and bleating useless dialog.  No comeuppance is delivered and no character growth occurs: the entire thing just devolves into misogynistic comic relief.  A tip to writers: putting a man in a dress in order to indicate that he's a coward is a sexist trope.  Comparing him unfavorably to actual women (who serve no story purpose except to compare favorably with him) does not actually make that better. 

Once the carnage is done, Jackson seems to rush the ending, perhaps in a belated fit of recognition that the source novel is actually really short.  Upon the death of Thorin, nearly every other sub-plot of the film is dropped in the interest of getting Bilbo back to the Shire as quickly as possible.  The Elves get minimal resolution as Tauriel mourns for Kili, Legolas wanders off to find himself, and King Thranduil admits that he's been kind of a jackass.  The humans of Lake Town are never mentioned again, with no on-screen indication that they received the share of the treasure that they fought for.  The dwarves give Bilbo a brief farewell, but the character of Dain Ironfoot (who, as the new King Under the Mountain, you would think might have something to say to the person who did so much to restore the kingdom) is conspicuously absent.

The movie still has much to recommend it.  Tauriel continues to represent the sort of addition that a book like The Hobbit actually needs, and her tragedy is sincerely felt.  Thorin (perhaps the true protagonist of these stories) has a very satisfying arc, though a more subtle depiction of his "dragon sickness" would have improved things and made his final redemption more credible.   The much-hyped battle has its ridiculous moments (the giant tunneling worms, the bat monsters, every instant of Alfrid's screen time), but the general tone is exciting and even ennobling, as far as depictions of death and carnage go.  The whole thing is a bit of a sloppy mess, but it's absolutely clear that the director's heart is in it, and so much more besides.

And of course, the visuals are stunning.  After all these years, does that even need to be said anymore?  Fans of the wide-pan-over-CGI-New-Zealand aesthetic will not be disappointed, though they may yet mourn the end of an era.

Some day, perhaps decades from now, the novels of J.R.R. Tolkien will again be adapted for the screen (or whatever space-age medium we've moved onto by the mid-21st century).  The extent to which those new adaptations will draw on Jackson's example is an interesting question, as he and his crew have succeeded in defining a style that exists quite separately from the original work.  Call that a triumph, if you will.  Whatever the most hardcore fans may think, these movies were made in large part for us, but in even larger part for the rest of the world who got something very different than anyone could have expected.  As for me, like Bilbo I think it's time I got back to my books.

*It  was when I started writing this, and I don't feel like changing my opening line.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Poetry Jam #17

I was sure I'd miscounted, but I haven't.  There's really seventeen of these things now.  And that's not counting the ones I wasn't counting!

I do try to post these collections regularly, but I really felt like I needed to do one today.  I've been feeling like a lump for the past week or so, and it really helps to feel productive.  So this was good for me.  I needed this.

Except for the first one (more on that in the commentary), all of these poems were written after we'd moved to Uijeongbu in mid-March of 2014 and started our new teaching jobs there.  The last one was written in July, by which point it had become somewhat obvious we'd made a huge mistake in taking that job.  But all things considered, it wasn't a bad time.


Forgotten Lands of Snow

In December's morning hours,
when the rocks grow fangs of
autumn frost that glitter
like my favorite waterfalls,
I think of all the places
where it's even colder,
where the winter is a state of climate,
not of calendar,
and the heads of state are
crowned with ice of blue
and icy green circlets of glass,
and the deep, powder snow
of sugar
tops the houses like it's Tuesday
and that's just the thing to do.


Early Spring by the Gap River in Daejeon

What signs of spring today?
Is this as fertile country
as it seems, beneath
the hazy shade of winter?

Is the river full
of fish and birds as well
as artful paths of stone,
arranged with careful skill?

And are the mountains greening
on the roads of spring,
alive and rushing wild
with imagination?

Sun above, and breeze
across the valley floor,
and I am pleased to find
the sky is blue again;

The ducklings, newly hatched,
are paddling on their own
along the waterway,
their feathers soft and dry;

The hills are brown, but greening,
getting brighter with
determination, growing
in the heat of passion.


The Little Monster

Earnestly the little monster
tried to please its monstrous maker;
slowly did it realize
there was no pleasing human nature.

Angrily, the little monster
wrote a book about its soul.
The monsters tore it from its heart
to keep it under their control.

Silently, the little monster
sang the song it longed to learn
before the monsters killed the music
and the student had its turn.


Ode to my inexpensive speaker system

The little box makes bass
the hands that made it would
be proud to hear, erupting
boldly from the wood,

and all the troubles at
my job are nothing for
the treble in my heart,
the snares on two and four.

The voltage is too much
to carry home from here,
but future sorrow's nothing
to the sounds I hear.


Pictures of Women

I see them walking down the street: pictures
of women, skirts and thighs, passing by
my vision in an unexpected third
dimension, suddenly as real as life.

Pictures of girls in summer dresses, legs
as flawless as the fabric: that's the best
my eyes can do, and now it makes me feel
pathetic just to put it into words.

This isn't normal, is it?  If I see
the women framed like portraits, flat
like paper, glossy like a magazine,
there must be something broken in my brain.


Salon Treatment

The scent of apples,
fingers thrumming
through my hair
like water, something
sweet in my mouth;
I know it's worth
fifteen, but how do
you think it came
to twenty five?


The Pohang Platform

You think you know the ocean
in the daylight, with
the glitter on the waves,
the harmony of seasons
in the summer songs;
and even with its size
beyond imagining
you think you know your friend.

See your friend at night
in all its darkness, from
the silence of the pier,
peering at the depth
and seeing none that you
can measure; what is this
but fear you feel, who
is this you thought you knew?


Celes

Like Celes on the desert island
underneath the purple sky,
alone for all she knows, and watching
hours never passing by,

this waiting at the window sill
 can never end while I'm asleep;
the lonely nightmare never ends
if I'm too frightened by the leap.

Somewhere on the darkened sea
is life, and life is hope of love,
while hope is beating on the wings
you bandaged for the wounded dove.


The Wave

                    Crashing,
                  Falling faster,
         Smashing on the shoreline,
        Breaking at the                       tip.
      From somewhere in  
   The ocean's depths, the
  Wave is growing bigger: watch
 It rip across the beach, where summer's
children play, their colored towels are soon to drip.


Private Schools

Send the kids back home,
the walls are falling down
and all the glass is breaking:
someone call their mothers!

Everybody has
a job to do, before
the school can be declared
"safe for human life".

Further down the line
we'll hear about the scandals,
and we'll wonder how
the bastards got away.


Yonggungsa on the Rocks by the Sea

Could you capture all your passion in a
pool as small as this?  Would the statues
calm the water and the rolling wind, and
keep the stones from drifting to the ocean?

As the temple's expiration date is
known, and all these things must pass away
before the breakers crush the yielding boulders,
prayers must be made in proper fashion.


Water of Life

The water's not clean, but it comes from the planet,
and thus the desire to drink it, to drain
the summer from the burbling fountain,
to take all the minerals into myself,
to draw the impurities into my cells,
now becoming as one with industrial Earth;

Because (let's be honest) it comes from a pipe
that came with a price tag and rusts like a bucket;
God help me for all of my foolish desires.


Songs about Sex

I know too many
(not enough);
I love to sing them,
but I only
want to do it
when I'm done,
I only want to
riot when
there's music in my
loving eyes
and rhythm in your
heart of hearts.


Sleep Talk

Did you know, my love,
that sometimes, when the night is deep
I hear you speaking softly?

A word or two, or three:
while I am lingering from sleep
your dreams have come to play,

to light across your lips,
a murmur in the dark to keep
the silence from the air,

a tickle in my ear
before I go, before the steep
decline has come to pass.

Did you know, my love,
that you've been talking in your sleep
and making perfect sense?


Our Dream Castle

We've laid a strong foundation here
to build a castle out of time,
a palace of impressive scale,
a lofty home for yours and mine.

Together we have planned the rooms,
arranged the gardens, set the stones
to mark the courtyard from the keep,
and polished timbers for the thrones.

Our dreams are blessed with music, and
the dance of laughter fills the stairs,
a magic kind of love's adventure
echoes proudly through the air.

And now a storm is bearing down,
a tempest blasting from the sky
to smash the splinters into bits,
and make the garden's flowers die.

The war of winds may not be stilled
before we lose our precious halls
or watch the lightning tear like knives
through paintings on the mansion walls.

These awful floods may scar the floors
and rot the bridge which spans the moat,
but when the weather clears, you'll find
our higher aspirations float.

No matter what disaster strikes
by storm or sword or vengeful wraith,
I know the walls will not be lost
because you give me cause for faith.

As strong as iron, oak, and and marble,
shining like a crystal sea,
the castle of our lives will weather
every trouble that could be.

And nothing will deny us peace
or harmony within ourselves:
when two decide to share a life,
no evil force may break their spells.
__________________________________________________

And here's the commentary!

Forgotten Lands of Snow should have been in the last poetry jam, as it was written in December 2013, shortly before we left Oregon for our big adventure.  However, rather than writing it in my poetry journal, I had written it on my cell phone, which I could not use in South Korea, and so I had completely forgotten about it until I returned to America and rediscovered it in September 2014.  And that's how I finally thought of a title for it!  This poem is all about its imagery, it doesn't really have a message beyond "ice is pretty".

Tara, being more athletically inclined than I, joined the Cheonan traveling Ultimate Frisbee team when we were still living in that city.  Though we moved to Uijeongbu before the season started, since the league played games all over the country and they'd have to travel anyway, she continued playing for them.  I went to watch and cheer her on at her first away game in Daejeon, and while they were warming up I wrote Early Spring..., which has a pretty obvious title but a very nice, hopeful message.  I like this one a lot, and yes I did crib a line from a Simon and Garfunkel song, thank you for noticing.   

The Pohang Platform was written on another Frisbee outing (to the seaside town of Pohang, naturally).  Incidentally, the best burritos to be found in South Korea are located in Pohang.

The Little Monster is about a couple of students that I had at my new job, particularly in my kindergarten and ESL classes.  I had never really been responsible for kids that age before, to say nothing of kids who didn't really fit into the educational system their parents and society were trying to force them into.  I had a job to do and their behaviors occasionally made me angry.  However, I tried to always remember myself at that age, and how I wasn't much different, and the reasons why.  So this poem grew out of my sympathy for them.

I wrote an Ode to my inexpensive speaker system because without it, I might well have lost my mind.  One of my principle joys around this time was coming home, putting on Spotify, and rocking the house while preparing dinner for Tara.  Of all the things I bought there, it ranks in the top three.  Unfortunately, when we had to move out of that apartment in August, it must have bumped into something, because it started making a high pitched whine whenever it was on.  For this tragic inconvenience, I blame our faithless employers.

Pictures of Women is a poem about objectification and the male gaze.  The speaker in the poem (who, let's be honest, is more or less me) is disoriented by the tension between the cultural conditioning that has trained him to view the women around him as images for consumption, and a growing awareness that they are fully realized humans who don't exist for his sake.  Much could probably be made of the fact that I am a white man and the women in my immediate surroundings at the time I conceived and wrote this poem were almost all Korean. 

Salon Treatment is a cute little poem about a haircut that I may have been overcharged for, but possibly not as it was a very extensive, full-service operation.  I agonized for a long time about whether to write "how do you" or "how'd you", with an eye to the exactitude of the meter.  I ultimately decided the meter was not important enough to write something like "how'd you".

I was playing a lot of Final Fantasy VI last spring, and I nerded out so damn hard that I wrote a poem about one of its signature narrative moments.  Yes, Celes is about a character from a JRPG that came out in 1994.  Mark my words, some day it will not seem unusual or gimmicky for poets to make allusions to video games.  Incidentally, I still haven't finished that particular play through... I should get on that.

I put a personal touch on my fourth grade class by incorporating some of my poetry into lessons, and encouraging my students to write their own examples.  The Wave was written for a lesson on concrete poetry, or poems written to take the shape on the page of the thing they are about, which is why it looks so ridiculous.  It looked a lot more like a wave when I wrote it on the white board way back when, but you get the idea.  I'm including it here for nostalgia purposes, more than anything else.

Private Schools is about the dawning realization that I was working for an exceptionally haphazard organization.  Upon writing the third stanza, I became convinced that I had either written it before or subconsciously stolen it from somewhere else.  The poem's rhythm is loosely inspired by Simon and Garfunkel's song Save the Life of my Child (yes, I was listening to them a lot last year), but I didn't steal it from that, so I'm just going to assume I came up with it on my own.

I wrote Yonggungsa on the Rocks by the Sea after a visit to the eponymous temple in Busan.  It was one of the most beautiful locations we managed to find in our stay there, and I loved it.  If I could see something in South Korea again, I might very well want it to be that.

Water of Life might be the weirdest poem here, particularly for the really odd thing the meter does in the third line.  I composed most of this poem in my head while walking to work one day, after being inspired by a leaking pipe  I saw on the way.  Somehow that line fit in perfectly and I didn't notice it was missing a bunch of syllables until after I'd had a chance to write it down.  I tried to rewrite the line later, but nothing worked as well, so I accepted it as is.  It's also weird because it's about a compulsive desire to drink water from a leaky pipe, but anyone could figure that out.

Songs about Sex is about sex, but it's pretty tame as sex poems go.  The original title had something a lot cruder than "Sex", but I decided to spare you, gentle reader.  Around this time I was experimenting with erotic poetry, and had managed to produce a 28-line opus in iambic pentameter that is, among other things: precisely metered and rhymed, outrageously inappropriate, hilariously awkward, and a little hot if you're into this sort of thing.  Naturally it will never see the light of day, but I had to brag about it here because I managed to recall or reconstruct the entire thing from memory on the train home from Busan after it failed to save on my tablet the night before.  I am not usually good at remembering lines of poetry, so I was very impressed with myself.

Sleep Talk is a love poem for Tara, about sleeping together in an entirely more innocent sense.

Our Dream Castle was written at a particularly stressful time at work, when the rest of the staff and I were negotiating with our faithless employer over when we would be paid our month's wages and pension (both were late).  Tara and I were both thoroughly sick of this bullshit and more than a little homesick, so I wrote this poem in an effort to reassure her that we'd make it through OK.