girls smoking in bathroom stalls
underneath no smoking signs
inside the tiny restrooms you can
barely turn around in and don’t
forget to bring your toilet paper
and practice your squatting for
those in-ground toilets.
old men pissing on the street
young men pissing on the street
kids pissing on the street but
It is autumn in every color of fire
Winter in brown and hills topped with snow white
Spring in every color of cherry-blossom
Summer in a humid, mosquito-bitten green.
customer service unparalleled
internet service unparalleled
a work ethic unparalleled
an efficiency unparalleled
Perhaps an unparalleled story
of one people who
in less than fifty years
It is a people divided in a land
covered in Buddhist temples
old Catholic churches,
Protestant buildings with glowing red crosses,
sometimes obstructing the view of
The Spirit moving in anonymous buildings
all days of the week.
Korea is a people at a crossroads of faith and history with
a smart phone in every hand including mine.
Walk-in doctor’s visits,
only wait five minutes.
But pray they aren’t
afraid of English.
It is my students afraid of English, but definitely not afraid of
Iron Man, Spiderman, Frozen, and What Does The Fox Say?
Korea is English-learning songs and jingles that haunt your dreams.
It is uniformed teenagers coming home late at night
dead, shiny marbles for eyes, heavy backpacks, sighs,
ready or not do it again tomorrow.
Korea is moving fast and slow at the same time.
Korea is not needing a car:
Clean, bright subways -
Clean buses running red lights and squeezing
through alleyways made for bicycles -
Clean taxis driving like there is a finish-line and
we gotta win no matter what.
The kind of taxi-rides that will make you pray
even if you don’t believe in God.
At least the fare is crazy cheap.
Brightly colored clothes in the woods
Exercise equipment in the woods
Blankets in the woods
covered with old Koreans and soju
and tinny music coming from tiny radios
but never any guns.
It is me watching old people
Old people walking where they want
Spitting where they want
Old people staring at me, frowning.
Old people smiling at me saying
HELLO USA NUMBER ONE!
Old women ruling the fish market,
fish wrangling queens who
with deft fingers and sixty years of muscle memory
will sever the spinal cords of twenty eels
in ten seconds while making conversation or
negotiating prices for their many
wriggling, swimming, flopping, crawling
sea animals destined for your stove.
Korea is rice and kimchi on the daily.
Coffee shops, two for every block
So many young, expectant couples
So many bright, pouting red lips
So many perfectly styled hair-dos
(and eyes and noses and chins)
So many kinds of caffeinated concoctions
But no such thing as decaf or
JUST A CUP OF JOE no sugar no cream.
soju vs. me
Misguided pastries, quesadillas, and
Mexican food in general.
It is me craving mandu
Gotta have it, bingsu gotta have it
jeon gotta have it, jangjorim anything
gotta have it
Barbecued meat wrapped in pickled radish
Easy-peasy kimchi fried rice in a minute
Pork and rice soup with them garlic greens
I gotta have all the things.
And don’t get me started on the buffets.
Even an octopus from the water
writhing tentacles in sesame oil
in our mouths
Korea is surprisingly delicious.
So delicious and surprising,
I’m sure I’ll be back for more.