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KOON WOON - Page 4

Notes from Zembla I am in a city without time with food and sex squeezed out of tubes... There Reflected in Flying Gulls outside my Window
3 am tales from the restaurant kitchen The Chinese Mafia "A Season in Hell"
The Empty Mirror The Odds A Smoke Break at the Nuclear Command
Poem, January 5, 2010 Monday, April 19, 2010 On Technological Advancement and Other Social Issues that Are Pressing of Our Time
Bill and Hilary
To Page 1 . Page 2 . Page 3

Notes from Zembla
("A very northern land" in Vladimir
Nabakov's novel, Pale Fire)

I am writing you from a very far country, where the water has traveled many miles of
convoluted pipes and up many floors to the spigot in my room, where it comes out in two
different temperatures and of the televised box in which the great leader's head appears,
though I must say, more often than I like. People puff on short burning sticks as if
inhaling their anguish; often time, they do this while inbibing a certain class of liquids
that make them speak and act silly or aggressive. These people have among themselves
observers called "sociologists," who are doing comparable work that I do, except, their
work is called "social science," whereas my work is called "fiction."

The fellow was a lawyer as well. We met for lunches every Sunday and the reality of
it was he was practicing his prosecuting skills on me, who in his mind was a subversive
to the great comforts of this land's constitution. But poor me, in more than one sense of
the word, was powerless and impotent in more than one sense of the word, but if I could,
I would surely act as Sampson and tear this house down. And so this lawyer was interested in
my poetry but my poetry was opaque to him, and so he kept to talking about things that
he understands, and so we talked about the software giant Microsoft. And I told hm that
all China needs is an abacus.

One fellow of interest is a part-time philosophy instructor who's an inventor on the
side. He's patented a portable bidet and is now selling stocks to his company. He got
inspiration for his brainchild one day two decades ago while sitting on the commode with
an attack of hemorrhoids. It is as they say, "Necessity is the mother of invention." And so
I muse to myself what his ads will be like. "Keep your bottoms clear with Pete's bidet?"
or "Look, mom, no hands, no mess."

That fellow who lived in a garage apartment - we referred to him as RNG, or the
"random number generator." He at one time was an instructor in mathematics at the
University. These days he is working on "fuzzy sets." He revealed to me that many years
ago, while working for Boeing, he calculated how to explode one big nuclear bomb at a
certain location that would do the damage of many smaller bombs. This problem and
many similar problems that he worked on gave him paranoia, and eventually he became

There's a writer who lives in my district of the city who goes to the café where many
writers go in this city. He works at the shipyard and he fancies himself an honorary
citizen of Gadansk. But he got laid off and had to become a full-time unpaid writer. His
wife was upset because he had two children of college age, and so he became a
bodyguard for the local software genius. He was subsequently paid so well that he
wonders why he ever wanted to be a writer anyway.

And there's Koon Woon, who at age 56 has outlived the great poet Theodore Roethke
by a year already, but Roethke though is immortal.

1998, revised October 14, 2005.

I am in a city without time
with food and sex squeezed out of tubes...

The three friends ascend the green balustrade
and view the changeless sea from the balcony
and conclude with infinite sadness
that beneath the green, green waters, fathoms deep,
lie early sunken Greek ships, laden with treasures...

I am in a house without a number:
sleep and food come at unpredictable hours...

Maria hides herself behind the purple curtains
as the three friends descend the green balustrade
and talk about white horses with black manes
and compare the saddle to the mantle piece

And by and by comes Lorca himself and says sadly to his friends,
"Mocitoes, if I were able, this house is your house,
and your horse is my horse,
but I am no longer I, nor is my house any longer my house..."

So, the three friends bid the old man adios
and vanish in the Andalusian air.
It is said that Marita's green, large green eyes,
that a silver tear begins to roll down
that in the moon climb hour of the night,

I am in a city without a name
as if I am galloping on a white horse with a black mane.
In truth I am merely squeezing the sadness out of my knapsack,
as I head toward the water, where silvery streaks
foretold of countless sorrows
of immense green, green waters that there brought a bottle
with a note from the Empress of China, in a script no one can read.

Yet how tender is this hour, as if a man is standing
at the foot of Stanyon Street,
that climbs from the bay high up on a hill,
where the dwellers are preparing for the night.
Lorca's sadness echoes in the sighs of Marita,
who is now annointing her face in a silvery mirror.
And so now as the three friends go to yet another city,
another city without time,
undulant and undulant the sea rolls in,
that beneath columns of heavy green water,
lie sorrows as sunken ships, laden with corroding treasures.

There Reflected in Flying Gulls outside my Window

Beauty is not in my eyes beholding, though accused lacking it.
These gulls primitive, slow to start and stumble when landing,
Like the first spaceships to the unknown, evolution's improved.

Their enormous eyes, red, I think, is bloodshot like my rest,
In the clang and drilling all the dead hours of the night enlarging
The freeway, coming this way to plow up inner-city blackberry
Vines, which grew ok without city rain, heaven's pennies
They abstain from taking. Gulls yelp, dive and make a lot of
Inadvertent noise, into the restaurant garbage under the billboard.

I yet could see their gliding poets thought majestic; black birds
Actually dive at them like bombers over awkward oil barges;
People hike many miles out of town, here, the gulls fly in

From the Puget Sound, where abandoned ships and fishing chips
And slick dumping force them from shores, where immigrants
Will raft their lives across turbulent seas of hostile languages

To come. Said I want to dwell on the vomit of alleys and don't
See beauty and hopeful things, like the universe is composed of
Only thinkable things. Language covers speakers like quilts,

Beneath each is however naked in various ways. Said beauty is
Only skin deep, that wrinkles or ripples change aesthetic views.
In high towers where dew is unseeable, beautiful are mountains

If we can only get there. For the present, we settle for only air.
Dwell within dynastic walls and listen to thin, tin sounds
Of poets with bird tongues or bards sightless by imperial decrees.

Beauty, I think is a long self-augmenting chrysanthemum, beauty
Is a bitter and brief radiance of the October month, on my cousin's
Tenement window in her first immigrant year. Flowers last

Hours or days. But in whose hours and which flowers rule this day?
Errant weeds will overrun cities; entropic grasses ramble in.
Beauty is reflected in every starved beggar's beseeching eye,
If they only look up at bloated gulls in the sky...

3 am tales from the restaurant kitchen

The background was the Sino-Japanese War in the 1930's in China. People had to do more unethical
things to survive and prosper. My father was a young man of sixteen and he was a bookkeeper to an
illiterate criminal in China.

That's what my father told me as we ate our closing meal together at the kitchen table. We sat on milk
crates. It was 3 am. We closed up Saturday night at 2 am and did all the cleaning up. Now it was our turn
to eat, after the whole town of Aberdeen had eaten. In the simple fury of work, we neglected our needs.

With all the lights turned off except the one naked bulb by the walk-in refrigerator, my father poured soy
sauce over his rib steak which lay on top of a mound of white rice on a steak platter. He seldom ate
vegetables. I had stir-fried myself a plate of shrimp and garden vegetables and served it with white rice.
First we ate in silence for awhile. Then he began.

"I knew a guy then. He knew business. He even brought dog meat and sold it from village to village." My
father took out a Marlboro cigarette from his white shirt pocket, lit it with a match, took a puff, and
continued with his story. "But the guy was illiterate and I had gone to high school and so he hired me as his
bookkeeper." He paused and took a couple of more puffs from his cigarette and cupped his left hand and used
it as an ashtray since we didn't keep an ashtray on the backroom table. He then told me that one time the
criminal was desperate for money and had robbed an old woman. Later he went up to her and asked her if
she remembered him. She said, quite stupidly, "Of course! You are the dead-bag boy who robbed me of my
grocery money! I hope you rot in hell." The criminal had no recourse but to murder her since he didn't
want to be caught. But my father said, as he took his final puff on the Marlboro, "The guy was caught and
hung." He said that without any further comment. It was more or less a statement about the nature of the
business enterprise.

By this time I realized that my chow har or stir-fried shrimp with vegetables had grown cold from listening
to his story. It was indeed the dead of the night, time for plots and assassins to go about their business.
Then suddenly my father changed the subject.

"Have you ever thought of business?" he asked. "You know, we are doing pretty good now. The bank
says it will give me credit for a hundred thou. You can get your grandmother to pick a nice girl for you
from Hong Kong. She will carry a purse and you can put things in it. You won't be so lonely and drift.
When I was your age, I wasted a lot of time too. Until I went back and got your mom over. What you say?"

Just then the freight train whistled by a few blocks away. It was close to four am and almost time for
sleep, after a bath at the apartment the other side of the restaurant parking lot for me. Yes, I was beginning
to feel a sense of losing direction. I no longer read Nietzsche with adolescent adoration. I still couldn't
understand Logical Positivism. Mathematics no longer seemed to satisfy my longing. I was still to waste
several years drinking, betting at the ractrack, and smoking dope until I had a psychotic break with
reality. This was still a relatively benign time, but loneliness was eating me like a time bomb.

We finished eating. OUr house is in back of the restaurant. My mother usually doesn't eat at night
with us and she's gone into the house to watch a late show on television or to wash her hair. I said good
night to my father and walked across the parking lot of the restaurant to our apartment house where I had
one of the three apartments.

I remember Uncle Harry who used to be partners with my father in Hoquiam. After closing, Uncle Harry
would go to a bar and invariably drink until he passed out in the street and then my father would have to
bail him out of jail. Uncle Harry's wife was in China. He had a sleeping room at the dusty Emerson Hotel.
My brother Hank and I used to have to go and wake Uncle Harry up to come to work.

Well, my bath is ready. I will soak my tense and tired muscles. Smoke a couple of cigarettes in the tub. It
was suffocating to be in Aberdeen after attending the University unsuccessfully. I was beginning to suspect
that I was failing but didn't know why, or how to stop it, or where to get help.

November, 2004

The Chinese Mafia

Let them sleep, and dream the dream of lobsters
I am likewise at peace in my little cottage
Trying to become Mr. Five Willows

I figure a crabapple is useful to no one but to itself
My safety depends on having no place where death can enter
And not acting on every rustling of the smallest branch

My abode is at the bank of a river, the river
Coming out of the marsh, where the river merchant's wife
Pines for her departed husband for the last 300 years

Beetles fight on a dung heap, that’s the essence of war
With axes and arrows, the superior force approaches my door
Let them knock lightly, so as not to disturb the bird

In the cage, which I am coaxing to sing
While the candle is burning to illumine the midnight lore
Whose frayed texts drive me to the brink of insanity

So, let them all sleep and dream of the God of War
Bringing them riches in the shape of gold nuggets
Only in the morning to find an empty store

So you can be in my dreams if I can be in yours
In any case let the Chinese Mafia sleep tonight
So that I can be at peace and in the morning open wide my door.

“A Season in Hell”

“When you come in to work each morning,
you got to remove your bodily organs and limbs
one by one, hang them up on the hooks provided
in the walk-in box, and then put a white apron
onto your disembodied self, pick up a knife
and go to the meat block,” said Alex the manager.

I was also drained of blood and other vital bodily fluids.

After the morning rush preparing pork adobo and chicken curry,
I ate lunch with Fong the chief cook and Lee the dishwasher.

In the afternoon I examined souls and kept the merits and demerits in a ledger.

For the three months I worked at City Lunch near the Bart Station,
I paid my rent and gradually I became robust enough to walk to work.
The entire city of San Francisco swung with the rhythm of my walk.
And stars appeared in the middle of the afternoon with a sliver of the moon.

Meanwhile, at Fisherman’s Wharf the stingrays came to the jetty
and whipped their tails against rocks; tourists paid me to dance
on the waves. I carefully treaded water and remembered to breathe.

In the end I was evicted anyway from my castle that glowed at night.
For a lack of a better thing to do I walked from hill top to hill top,
burned newspapers to inhale the smoke, then climbed down to the water
beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and harvested seaweed.

I waited until one sunny day when the water was warm and calm.
I swam all the way to Asia and got replacements for my disembodied self.
I did not forget that I was a ghost.
And that was my first season in Hell.

March, 2008

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

March, 2008

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.

A Smoke Break at the Nuclear Command

We multitask chop, grill, wok, and pickle.
They are fickle, can come all hours, drunk,
after sex, before meetings, during greetings;
hucksters, gangsters, no telling who wants what
stir-fried, steamed rock cod with its head and bulbous eyes.

My father at the meat block hacks spareribs, carves bone from chicken,
minces onions, six sons chow the mein, French-fry the sausages,
whip the gravy, beat the eggs until you can fool the young
into thinking that’s sperm yanked from a calf.
Smoke signals say the pork chops are burnt,
the white sauce turning yellow and the waitresses ladle the soup.
Sounds like feeding at the zoo. Chopsticks tingle from a corner booth.

On and on motors start and stop, door open and shut, ice water
set down as menus are tossed. You need a minute? Mom is helping the girls to wash
glasses and tea pots. It would be sinful to run out of hot mustard during the rush.
My father drinks my coffee and I smoke his Marlboro,
Two cowboys in cattle drive fending off rustlers, and damn!
The waitress says that the women’s toilet has overflowed!

We are going to go fishing as soon as our mental breakdowns are over with.
And we are going to take a smoke break from the nuclear command.
Just then a party of 12 comes in – well, put two tables together,
like a man joining a woman, the yin and yang, and kids with yo-yo’s.
We are family doing family business, money for school books,
Mom’s dentures.

Poem, January 5, 2010

My head and heart are separated
by six rivers now
Six guitar strings
or six bullets in their chamber

How could I ever know
if my head is fueled by heart
or if my heart is not leading
but dragged by my head instead

How could I ever know
if mental illness infects not the heart
or if my heart cries “foul”
and infests without mercy the head

So you juggle them or call for a judge
but in all credulity it is like hammer
on sledge or they balance
as in a ledger without the fudge.

Surely I will die never knowing
the magnitudes of storms
whether they are noteworthy
or merely fleeting – as a doubt

But the fusion/fission in me you arouse
I should say are rampaging floods now.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sometimes I poke my head inside our bedroom (which I think of as her room) and see her
on bed asleep with the most innocent looks like a child who’s had a rough day of play

I begin to cry
I begin to cry
For her, for me
For the world that is not free

I remember then all the wrong things that she has told me, some wrongly told
I don’t blame myself for crying then
I begin to cry
I begin to cry
For her, for me
For all the world that is not free

Sometimes I feel she’s unwanted
Like I am unwanted
I cry for the world
That no one wants
I cry for me
I cry for her
I cry for the entire world that is not free

A friend of mine is reading this
Because he cares
Because she cares
About people who secretly cry
For he
For she
For the entire world that is not free

On Technological Advancement and Other Social Issues that Are Pressing of Our Time

Someone the other day invented a left-handed screwdriver…

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...