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.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015

Those following closely will know that I have had a very unusual year.  I spent most of it in a foreign country under alternating stresses.  There were definitely points when I honestly had no idea where I was heading.  That I'm now sitting at the same old desk in the same old chair, comfortably ensconced in my mother's house, is mainly a testament to the gravitational forces that define my life.  Maybe that's part of the problem.

2014 came to a stunning finish for me when my girlfriend Tara, with whom I shared the year's adventure, told me that she wanted some time apart.  I spent much of the month of December eying the calendar and trying to guess at what was going on in her mind.  After a month, I checked in on her.  What she told me was not, perhaps, the worst thing I could have expected.  But the fact remains, we're on an indefinite break.  Wherever I go next in my life, I'm taking the step alone.

What does it mean to be without someone, without having definitely "lost" her?  That's what I'm trying so hard to figure out, and writing this all out is part of the process.  She didn't tell me to get lost.  She said she loves me.  But she also said we can't be together while she figures her life out.  It's confusing.

The main thing is, I've been put into the position of having to trust her absolutely.  If I want her, the only thing I can possibly do is trust her to take care of herself until she decides she's ready for me.  That's the kind of trust a person who loves another person should be able to have, ready to pull out the second it's needed.  It's precisely what I'm trying to do.  But my relationship with her has so far been based on voluntary efforts.  By the very nature of the situation, I now have no choice.

She's doing what she has to do, of that I have no doubt.  I know her well enough to know that she has thought hard about her decision.  But that doesn't make me any less wounded.  I have been good to her.  I have been loyal to her.  I have supported her in everything she's ever tried and done everything she's asked of me.  Every last bit of it was voluntary, because her companionship was a source of constant joy.  When I look at her, or hear her voice, I think "here is a person who is worth all of this, worth everything I can do for her".  How could losing her, even if it is temporary after all, be anything but pain? 

Our third anniversary is in nine days, and it will go by unmarked and uncelebrated.  There will be no presents, no earnest declarations of love.  Only silence and memory.  My heart tells me this is outrageous.  But there's nothing I can do.

When I remember all those train rides and car trips together, or when we went swimming in the ocean, or the meals we cooked for each other, or the camping in the woods and on the beach with her dog, or the books and shows we shared, or the time we danced and she sang to me spontaneously in her parents' kitchen, or all the countless nights I held her in my arms before we went to sleep... it just seems impossible that we were only meant for so little time.  I waited a long time for a love like this to come into my life.  I grew by leaps and bounds to become worthy of someone like her.  To lose something so precious would be more than cruel.

Which brings me back to trust.  All hope is not lost, and I haven't lost her forever.  But just as I have to trust her to be true to herself, she is trusting me to use my time wisely.  Once again, I'm sitting tonight in my mother's house, a thousand miles away from her to begin with.  I'm working for my father, saving a little money as I go, but that can't last forever.  I need to get back to my real home, in Oregon.  I have to build a real life for myself there.  I can't sit still, if I want to show her that she can really trust me to share her life with her.

At least, I think that's what I'm supposed to do? It's the best advice I've gotten.  It resonates inside me.  But I am so afraid, and the one I'd look to for courage can't help me now.  This was never how I wanted things to be, and if there were a god to shake my fists at I'd like to bring the whole heavens down in the act.  But I have no choice but to trust and try.

It is well that we are at the beginning of a new year.  I'm still a young man, and I still have hope.  2015 is off to a traumatic start, but a dramatic evolution may be in the offing.  I'm not ready to give up yet.  I want to be the kind of man who can do this for her.

Darling, on the off-chance that you still check my blog, I want to make you a promise.  I'll do my best.  I love you.

Monday, December 15, 2014

December Fourteenth

This might get a little sad.

Glancing at the calendar in the lower right-hand corner, I observe that today is December Fourteenth.  An innocuous date, one might think... yet careful examination of the historical record (i.e., the daily journal I have kept for the past four years) confirms that this is an important anniversary.  It was on the evening of December Fourteenth, 2013 that my girlfriend Tara and I arrived in the Republic of Korea and began our grand adventure.

That first job we had (the one we fled from after three months) was meant to be a year-long engagement.  So in a world where everything works out beautifully for those whose hearts are pure, we'd be on our way home to America.  If you'd asked me where I thought I'd be in a year, I'd say I was going to be flying back home for Christmas all the wealthier and wiser for a fulfilling year abroad.  But as we know, the world isn't perfect, and I've been home, living in my mother's house and working in my father's office, for about three months now.  Tara's likewise with her folks, taking some time to reacquaint herself with life and friends and family in Oregon.

Due to the international date line, my last December Fourteenth lasted about eight hours and was mostly spent in transportation before collapsing on an uncomfortable and unfamiliar bed.  This one lasted the typical length, and was mostly spent in my computer chair in the company of Tumblr and Netflix, though I did take pity on my body and take a walk through the hills by my house a few hours ago.  Tomorrow, I'm going back to work for my dad, where I will continue to restlessly mark time until I'm ready to move back to Oregon and put my life back in order.  As exhausting as the last December Fourteenth was, I think I liked it better.

You know, it's Christmas time, I've fallen from an awkward situation halfway around the world into a very comfortable safety net, and I just feel so sad.  That's really the hard kernel of what I wanted to say tonight in this blog post: I feel so sad right now.  I miss my girlfriend, who is the single most important person in the world to me.  I miss my friends, the ones in Korea as well as Oregon.  Sometimes I cry about it.  Sometimes I don't talk to anyone but my parents.  Sometimes I'm all alone with thoughts about how alone I am and how little control I have over myself.  Lately my heart feels like it's constantly preparing for the sudden eruption of a worst case scenario, but it can never prepare enough and will simply fail at the least provocation.  That kind of stress is unhealthy, and I don't know how to make it stop.

I know what I want in life, more or less.  I want a satisfying job and a peaceful home with Tara, along with a thousand stories to carry us through the years of our lives.  But melancholy is weighing me down. 

I'm working on getting things together, and I still have good times every now and again.  But I've definitely been happier than I am today.  I hope I'll be happier again soon.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Free Candy: Sketch Comedy at the 10th Avenue Theater in San Diego

Writing about comedy is hard, because it's generally not funny.  Explaining why a joke lands is like relating the plot of obscure foreign movies: interesting, but only if you're a huge nerd.  Only the hugest of nerds would dare make the attempt.

The performers of the sketch comedy show Free Candy could probably write a really, really funny review of their performance on Friday night.  Some might question whether that review would be biased or accurate, but it would definitely be funny.  And frankly, that's all that anyone who's ever written about comedy has ever wanted.  Those who cannot do, pathetically emulate while describing in general terms, often with no idea what they're talking about.  Allow me to furnish an example.

Before I get serious, I want to emphasize something very important: there was, in fact, free candy at this show.  Everybody only gets one, and that is not nearly enough, but times are hard and comedy doesn't come cheap. On the basis of this generous gesture alone, I award Free Candy three out of five stars.

Cast members Devon Kane, Meridith McNeill, Brendan Milove, Nick Scutti, and Alec Sobejana complemented the complimentary sweets with an evening of highbrow amusement, inviting us to cordially chuckle at rarefied jokes about BDSM, latent incest, and the improbable anatomical possibilities of an umbilical cord.  However, the full range of their performance cannot be described in a punctuated three-part list.  It would take some kind of high-tech video recording device to display their genius and do it justice.  I understand there was one in the theater, and I will do my best to track it down.

Making use of minimal props and effective lighting and sound cues, Free Candy was all the funnier for its DIY ethic and the sheer determination of the cast.  The occasional flubbed line, cracked smile, or weak joke hardly slowed them down, as each actor sold their momentary parts with glee and powered through to the next highlight.  Special musical guest Devon McNeill's appearance set the stage for my favorite sketch of the whole show, expertly combining talented singing with unhinged disruption and deadpan non-reaction.

Perhaps the real engine of the show was writer and performer Brendan Milove, who committed his full intensity to each new character at a moment's notice.  Perhaps I am biased in making this claim because I have known Brendan since we were children and his mother got me a ticket to the show.  Perhaps you should just go see him yourself some time and judge.

Having thus placed the integrity of this review in grave doubt, I leave you with a thought on the value of small-scale local theater productions.  In today's increasingly high-structured, over-produced entertainment culture, it is extremely refreshing to watch a dedicated band of goofballs go nuts on a tiny, tiny stage.  Performances like this are what make culture a going concern, and should be supported at every opportunity, no matter how many dark alleys you have to explore before you find them.

I also want to remind you that there was, in fact free candy on everyone's seat before the show.  That's not something you see every day.