koon kau woon


Between Shaves

Between shaves, I grow in years
That bears a witness to your absent hand
Stroking as you would a pale fire
On the chin of your pet

Between shaves, I have lost you
To the grottoes and grovels of the underground
Where upon which the city was built
And nameless indeed the men and women
Who powdered their cheeks after each mining accident

Should life be as complicated as this?
Kowtowing to ships that bring tissue paper
For immaculating nostrils,
Lenses of stupefied clerks, the fat cheeks of children

Between shaves, I have looked into my coffee
And known myself for the repetition of meals
And I wonder, what can I give you,
That is three-leaved and not a clover,
And will startle you into magic!

The magic of a palm and a vulnerable face between shaves
An endless stream of bills and invoices
Telling me what I should be and to live
If only to satisfy those obligations
As I flee from pillow to pillow
With clasping hands but no supporting arms
With feet sinking into sand
Touching the rims of sand dollars

And you, the daughter I did not have
And you have a mother
She never has left you
She stayed and walked these sands of the Oregon coast
The prints are gone, but it was, it was in Oregon.


The thunderous applause of oceans

(from the collection, The Way I Had To Live)

We do not say our destination is near
Or that our journey is far,
But we do know our intent wins the applause
Of oceans.

We do not say our love melts butter
Or dissolves gold,
But we know its core is the white flame
Of fire.

We do not say our companionship is for
What hours,
Nor do we say we agree or disagree,
But we know that it has been a quarter of a century.

We have to live.
We have to live this way.
We have blemishes
And so are we to blame?

You have circled the city in your car,
Looking for a place to get good cucumbers,
But the loneliness drives you on,
Of this club you are a member.

I have rattled the typewriter and the sound
Bounces and rebound in my sparse
Rented room.
I seldom see a friend or even a foe.

Now we say we have to live
Simply because
We have to live the way we do, as victims
Of secret and nameless wars.

And we live like we do,
Until we can stroll along the seashore
And to hear the thunderous roars
Of ocean and ocean waves,
Until the oceans do not begrudge us anymore.
They give us their shores
As we embrace on the sand and the waves forever applaud.


My Skeletal Self

There is only so much time left before
I come face to face with my skeletal self
The string of bones that clatter in the wind

This bag of wind will cease to exist, except
Minimally, deflated and depleted
As a lemon has been given its last squeeze

All my days will sour, though words will continue
To pour, but my pockets will be poorer and poorer
And my home will shrink to a bundle on my back

Even if I try to unfrown myself, force a smile,
But I end up rattling my jaws, the best I can muster
Is a rattling disaster, of clavicle unhealth

So, put me on the shelf, as example of economic
Ill health, go eat your steak and a pile of other
Carbons, turn on the television to stave oblivion

My skeleton will not rust and it is content on the shelf
It will not even gather dust as you observe yourself
And its goodness, you will observe, lies in that
Nothing is hiding within, not even now a bag of wind.


Body & River

This old body I wear;
It wears me — years seep through
My skin, seeking
Approval of the Minister of the Interior.
Pray: No sudden death!

For here is a river,
Home is the water,
Water Chasing Water.
In its silt the Pearl has my heart,
It flutters there,
With warm fish congee in my child belly —

Here is the Pearl —
Here is the river in China.
My heart is heavy;
It lies at the bottom.
Let fish carry my soul,
Downward with the water — forever!

November 1, 2012
The 52nd anniversary of my being in the US


The Night Lies before Me

The night lies before me like a highway without end
but a heavy rain floods the lawns, sidewalk unable to curb
something on my mind, unlike an orange contained
by its rind. I hear the landlady’s dismay above her daughter’s cries.
So, I will wait. Now put away the dinner plate.

Heavy rain, lighter evening, so it goes,
I cross the border, now I am alone, while the night slowly
deepens, I alone, I face my chaperone that is
light on the fringes almost making it to the walls
there is no other person here, I am sighing, that is all.


Meditation Upon a River

Long as a conversation with a river
in repose: Uncle in the slow
afternoons of a Canton summer,
sunshine of honey, black tar of streets,
the protruding feet of a rickshaw puller
napping in afternoon heat
Rice congee at Shamin, the breeze from the Pearl River
on yung trees massive for a child…
So this river, that wind, these boats,
those sojourns…
The storyteller pauses to ask for
tea money to go on with his story
at a cliff-hanging

and my Uncle in the Canton
flat, pushed from the turmoil of
the streets because of
a bad leg, slowly motions a chess
man toward my king.
I tell him I saw a jellyfish rising
at the cultural park and his avuncular
smile reveals a golden

In the summer heat, my
mind slowly absorbs the wisdom
of the street and the balcony
where our careless cat fell down three floors
and eventually came back

as I do now, this memory of Uncle
from two score years ago,
when I would lay on my belly
and read tales of adventure.
But the best story is always told
by a river, a unique river
telling the most general of things….



It hasn’t rained in China for a while —
there’s no rain in Guangzhou.
We come upon an unnamed river,
catfish at its bottom,
willows bending from its banks.
The breeze brings cool autumn.
Friends meet again at the tea pavilion
exchanging words, gestures,
and a longing for lost lands.

A drought of ideas
arises from the breast —
no consolation there.
Pathetic, pathetic is the retreating army
across the untended rice fields.
The hemp at the edge of the swamp
grows thick like a wild child’s hair.
No song of the hour rings out;
no cicadas at midday;
no robins in the evening.

With three coins to my name,
I beg to see the future
while listening to lost lore
in the music that sweeps like
November drafts.
Gone are the magistrate and the blind
men who can augur.

Rivers swell, last leaves fall.
I am bewildered by the vastness of air.


April 11, 2012

She was a strange lady; she said
the truth is calculable but I am so sad.
I was attracted to her false eye,
in the coffeehouse when I read
a philosophy text and vastly enjoyed
my coffee stirred with honey
that being young and impressionable,
I fed copious info to my head.

She studied Chaucer and the cups and saucers
of the busy café and said, “ I must go to bed.
I worked on a chemistry problem and I am balancing
the valences in my head.”
In the end it was no good.
The chess competition was extremely bad
although the steam from my coffee
held its own for a while
against the fog on the stained-glass window,
and outside, the snow fell. Sort of sad.

She told me of the phone company
where she patched calls
with signals coming from the other side of the world
criss-crossing in her ears.
So many people talking still, she said,
the world must still be undead.

I touched softly her hand and bid to go.
She sighed weakly as gentle as the falling snow.
In the short interlude while I touched her hand,
a lifetime slid by and henceforth
all chance meetings follow this paradigm,
as the global swelling of the earth’s tides,
and our parting did not signify a good-bye…


The following poems are from Three Poets: Voices from The West Coast:

Like Water

Today I feel like the saddest water
going to places men reject

Like water I ebb my way
to the lowest point in the dungeon

I harden myself like ice
and crack only under sufficient pressure

What about the steam power that I
once was, driving great turbines?

What about the gentle rain that I
was –  lovers abed drowsed in?

What has come to pass are
transformations difficult to accept

All that hails from up above
hit the hard ground

Eventually everything is ice-capped
or ocean-bound


Lines written on my return trip from my first Pacific University MFA
residency in Seaside, Oregon

I expected rivers
Instead, I saw yellowed pastures
horses standing next to junked cars

I was empty
Bought a Diet Pepsi on the train
chewed the ice

Today is like
any other after all
there were no rivers

Brown grasses
frost on the brush
along the rails taking me home

I expected assurance
but the ride in darkness
rattled me

I was empty
Bought another can of Diet Pepsi
I did not object to its price
I deduce I am the alien
the horror movies insinuate
I think I am the intruder

Into these woods
Where the January frost
cannot do much good.


The Empty Mirror
For Gary Snyder

One day he’ll look into the mirror
There’s nothing there

It’s not the mirror that’s empty
It’s just that he is not there



I am that old, you know,
when I remember the wild exuberance of crashing,
looping, and bumping in the wizardly

cannot sustain a steel ball seeking gravity
as Sisyphus seeks his dignity
when rolling the boulder, his fate up the hill,
condemned thus, eternity spent
rolling upward and upward only to have the ball
fall through the gutter,
the night is tilt.

It is wise to walk away
from a construction like what a philosopher tells
you that impossible is impossible
as a logical necessity
as a surgeon’s grief greater than the grief of the patient’s spouse,
when he shuffles from the operating table
shaking his head, shaking a lifetime away.
The tragedy lies in walking away,
but what if I stay?

A whole culture would have been preserved by Karen Weirob no less
The clink of schooners, beer nuts, Gary’s missionary style of “getting on top!”
Pete’s Yorkshire understatements.

But it was a bit thick
And I walked away from it all.


Hotel Fire

When a pretty woman cries to me
like a hotel on fire
I am almost normal in response

Bring out the meat
Bring the drinks
Be merry!

Let not the fire and light go to waste!
Bring the pen
Write it down for posterity!

Jaroslav Seifert you are so right,
women do us the least harm

A lesser mortal am I
but we are all mortals alike

When a single woman cries,
the whole night is on fire!

When the hotel burns,
I quickly learn,
how quickly you arouse desire


I See My Fate in My Palm

I see my fate in my palm,
the palm that holds your palm,
and the lines and veins that connect
my heart to your heart
in the paths of life.

Be it simple, be it convoluted,
be it properly clothed, or complete in the nude,
you are my life, my fate,
you are my wife, my mate.

When men compare wallets against wallets,
or the number of hairs standing in their heads,
I compare the stars that shine each to each,
and count the days our love grows, from the day we first met.

I will not forget you in my village tongue,
by your name Lian Ai, the beautiful lotus,
and as you lie silently here asleep,
I pause at the typewriter,
to look at the lines you etched indelibly in my palms.

I see my fate, I see the paths of our connecting veins.
I can see the future too, it is always the first day –
You are my life, my fate;
You are my wife, my mate.


The Odds

The odds are not good, 
never were good.
Even the dishes are stacked against 
me (I don’t say “you”)
 and I have to wash them.

Eventually I will break a dish or two;
 maybe a cup, or a saucer, 
then, that may bring us closer, or 
farther apart, to a common disaster.

You have been far away, 
you don’t remember
 when or where
 anymore. You came to me
 as a leaf blown.
 It is all right I tell you.

I too am born of chaos
 when the red opposed the blue.
 But at the time I found you,
 I already had learned to look upon
 my small peace 
with great awe.


Tonight I Hear the Sloshing of the Freeway

It is close to midnight; the 60-watt lamp
brightens all the more, as the freeway’s sloshing is
magnified – or, is it the sound of loneliness in my ears?

I loved her once, almost like a gambler gaming without limits.
And she was thinking that perhaps she could love me,
but she was caught between comfort and chaos.

I haven’t cooked for days; a nearby restaurant obliges me.
The waitress looks as inviting as my barber’s fingers on my
scalp. I rinse the food down with tepid tea.

The night seems to expand beyond the waterfront,
where cruise ships sit alongside container ships,
where cabins in one are filled with kisses and in the other

Mere merchandise. They say that the moon is full tonight.
It will be morning before the moon descends in my view
and by then I have tossed and turned, turned and tossed

Like a piece of torta in the paisano’s two rotating fists.
My unfinished tea from last night is cold, and I shiver
because it is not yet spring, although I am beginning winter.


poem of streets in the fall

Today I really got the general drift
of what the wind-blown leaves trace;
brown and manila colored, sized from
fingernails to half a palm
whirling on the sidewalk.

Wind got me too, its velocity the tepid
sun did not help, cold drafts
from the south, and it is my autumn,
sad sirens of October.
Winter the only inevitable season
bringing rain and ice to Seattle.

Today I had walked about the refurbished
parts of the city, feeling the streets
as under-brushes, the cafes and taverns
almost downbeat and sparsely occupied.

It seemed the human commerce at these
corners and parks of the city is as fast
as a handshake, a blurred scene from the
perspective of a passenger on the bus.
Going while pigeons flocked together
in the square and dispersed.


Bill and Hilary

Bill: I love you dear for loving me, which made me look after my diet, which made me healthier, which made me happier, which made me love you more, dear!

Hilary: Yes, you are healthier and you do love me better!

Bill: It was all your doing dear to choose to team up with me and now we love each other so much.  It will continue to spiral…

Hilary: Yes, of course, Bill, we will soon be a tornado together….



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