To My Bold Girl

Dream big, my daughter, aim higher.

I won’t always be there when you falter,
but still, go boldly farther and further.
Alone you’ll cross the treacherous waters,
alone you’ll face the crowd’s insolent whispers.

You’ll see that before it gets light it gets darker,
and you’ll find, sometimes, that you’re your own savior.

You’ll see that it’s hard to cap your endurance,
and your fears don’t sum to their appearance.

Compared to how you first thought it, the world
is both smaller and larger, and there will
always be more to explore and discover.

Love always, and always with you, your father.

My Guide My Soul My Shepherd

The moon is my guide my soul my shepherd.

The air was thin and cold, my heart was big and bold, when I packed my bags to leave my home.

I followed the spring, a brush and tumble with love, and wet with the taste, thought it was all and it was all enough.

Staking it all, I lost it all, and I took what I could to hit the road, dreaming about the warm lights and hearths of home.  There the lights would glow, just like the moon I know, my guide my soul my shepherd.

Under the torrid sun, and endless din of work, I lost my youth but gained a place, for I shared bread with princes, merchants, and rogues.

My bags grew heavy as I grew old, my legs grew weak and slow.  I paused a while, and it was quiet dark, and cold.

I emptied my bags by the light of the moon, my guide my soul my shepherd.

To whom do I owe these memories of laughter, love, and life?  To whom do I owe the ones of shame, regret, and bile?

Do I need these things, these things that compose the measure of my being?  These stories of evil and schemery, these stories of strength and hope?

I took them out and chose, and chose to leave some there, under the light of the moon, next to my glowing home, by the side of a snowy road.

I chose to explore, under the light of the moon, my guide my soul my shepherd.

Young in LA (Part II)

Mia: Maybe I’m not good enough!

Sebastian: Yes, you are.

Mia: Maybe I’m not!  It’s like a pipe dream.

Sebastian: This is the dream!  It’s conflict and it’s compromise and it’s very, very exciting!

La La Land

During the days, you’ll strive and sweat and cry.  During the nights, you’ll look out the window of your apartment or car and see the indigo darkness draped over the hills, the street lamps glowing in adagio.  They’ll look like souls huddled in fervent prayer.  Your dreams.

But here’s the thing.  The dreams dreamed in the City of Dreams, are tricky.  The City of Dreams is an illusion, a mirage in the desert.

What you dreamed of at 22, will come true.

And having what you once wanted, you’ll look back, your youth spent.  You’ll think back on the City of Dreams, the feeling of being young and hungry, and every so often a desert wind will evoke false memories of bittersweet paths taken if not for a single gesture, word, or action, and you’ll wonder where the time went. 

And you’ll wonder if what you got, was what you really wanted.

Or if you’d be happier young, having nothing but dreams again.

Fathers

It is summer.  He moves his tusks, snorting in the mud, speared out of a delightful nap.  He grits his teeth, snaps behind him.

The older beast is deft, dodges the wild slash of his son’s deadly horns, and drives his tusks in again, safely out of reach.  And again.

He grunts and snorts, watching his father through vengeful eyes, feeling blood pound as it courses through his veins.

Every day he is stronger.  And he takes solace in that fact, in the gnarled growth of his sinews, in his strength.

The daily nudging is a reminder that he is not yet a master of his fate, that in the eyes of the world, he is still prey, that he is still young.

He bristles and snorts and feels his own hot breath, but moves sullenly, slowed by the curdled rage of youth.


He remembers this as he watches his own sleeping boy.

His child, his creation, so beautiful.  So beautiful, but he knows the boy is still defenseless against the predators of the night.  Reflexes still unsharpened, movement unrefined, muscles not completely knit.

And for this, they must move or die.

He knows the next part will break his heart, but he lifts his tusks anyway.  There.  He nudges, and nudges so that the little one will go forth into the world, nudging even though he is nudging his baby away from him, nudging even though he knows it fills the little one with annoyance, annoyance that will soon evolve to rage, nudging even though he knows it pushes the boy away, and it will eventually alienate them from each other. He nudges because he must.

He remembers his father’s tusks.  He has wondered if they were really as piercing as he remembered.  Maybe not.  After all, it must have been filled with love.

Waves of Indifference

Manhattan Beach

This was a while ago during a year of heartbreak.

During that year, I spent a lot of time in the water.  I took a board out and sat in the middle of the sea, watching waves and getting battered by them in all sorts of conditions.

I went when it was completely flat and would bob on the water, and I went when it was choppy and would fall off every few seconds, and I went in early morning and at dusk and in 40 degree water until my fingers turned into claws, and I surfed with the dolphins and sea lions and red tide and the jellyfish.

I would sit there and look into the horizon for the one who was far away – who had gone away, and sometimes the sun would come out and break into a million pieces on the water, like an emerald hacienda, and sometimes the fog would be so thick that you couldn’t see the waves coming in except as darker fog in the distance, and you couldn’t tell where the water started and the sky began, and it felt like you were somewhere high in the clouds and angels were around you, as the water lapped gently at your board.

Sometimes it was bright, and the waves crested with white plumes, and other times when it was cloudy the waves when they opened up looked like giant maws full of death and destruction, and they closed on your head like thundering bombs.

Being heartbroken made me susceptible to faulty logic, and I reasoned that the more of these impossible waves I caught, the more worthy I was, and I would stay even during choppy conditions until I had satisfied my quota, and then would walk back in thinking I had passed a test.

I would surf in the messiest and unrelenting of conditions, waves coming in bruised and sickening colors, crashing and surging, white plumes cresting above them as they peaked, before thundering with complete and utter indifference.

Sometimes I would get caught by a rogue wave that unfurled above and smashed me into the sand, and withdrew with such force I was sucked into the water again.  Flailing in the freezing water, so cold my breath was drawn out, in these times I could think of only one thing, which was that there was no malice in the water, nothing that cared enough to hate.  The only feeling that the water was a force of nature, above and beyond anything in human experience and in the face of which we are just a speck of dust.  Only by its endless grace are we allowed to enter it, fish it, surf it.

I was looking for answers out there, but there were none.  The waves were apathetic.  And I didn’t solve any problems.  They were just made insignificant.

The Breakup

It’s always ugly. 

They both knew it was over.

But, he couldn’t just let it go like this.  His ego shattered, time wasted, a part of his life – gone.

In her life, ultimately, it was as if he hadn’t existed.  He needed something, a piece of her.  Or better yet, to leave his mark.

So he made her cry.  He said savage things, half-true, ugly accusations.  He made blame rain down on her, drench her, cover her.  He called up bittersweet memories, detonating horrific and cloying images in front of their eyes.

He conjured up anything he could to manipulate her into feeling regret – and perhaps guilt – that perhaps it really was her fault.  That perhaps he really was the noble one, the one who would have wanted to keep trying when she didn’t.

An hour-long tirade, and he did everything he could to permanently embed himself into her memories.

She must be made to cry.  If she cried, then she was feeling regret and guilt.  If she felt regret, then he had succeeded.  Then he could leave, having made his mark.  And then, perhaps, he could perversely remain in her heart as a permanent burr, a tattoo.

She cried.

I’ve won, he thought.

They said goodbye.  She closed the door.

What he didn’t know was that her tears were not tears of regret.

They were tears of ablution, to purge herself of the guilt of not feeling very guilty or sorry at all.

This is the Ending of the Most Beautiful Love Poem Ever Written.

 

Even now
The night is full of silver straws of rain,
And I will send my soul to see your body
This last poor time.  I stand beside your bed;
Your shadowed head lies leaving a bright space
Upon the pillow empty, your sorrowful arm
Holds from your side and clasps not anything.
There is no covering upon you.

Even now
I think your feet seek mine to comfort them.
There is some dream about you even now
Which I’ll not hear at waking.  Weep not at dawn,
Though day brings wearily your daily loss
And all the light is hateful.  Now is it time
To bring my soul away.

Even now
I mind that I went round with men and women,
And underneath their brows, deep in their eyes,
I saw their souls, which go slipping aside
In swarms before the pleasure of my mind;
The world was like a flight of birds, shadow or flame
Which I saw pass above the engraven hills.
Yet was there never one like to my girl.

Even now
Death I take up as consolation.
Nay, were I free as the condor with his wings
Or old kings throned on violet ivory,
Night would not come without beds of green floss
And never a bed without my bright darling.
It is most fit that you strike now, black guards,
And let this fountain out before the dawn.

Even now
I know that I have savoured the hot taste of life
Lifting green cups and gold at the great feast.
Just for a small and a forgotten time
I have had full in my eyes from off my girl
The whitest pouring of eternal light.
The heavy knife.  As to a gala day.

Black Marigolds, Chauras
1st Century.

The Most Important Thing (The End)

Ten years!  Ten years passed, and I thought I had left everything behind, embalming all these memories, leaving well enough alone.

But on the plane, I picked up a newspaper.  The second page had a picture of you in it.

I could only half make out the text, so I asked a stewardess what it meant.

This person, she pointed out, was taking over her father’s company.  Her father’s company owned buildings and hotels and offices, a huge portfolio of the same buildings where we had once laughed and played.  Your father’s company, now your company, was a subsidiary of one of Korea’s biggest global conglomerates.

As the plane descended into the city, time and space warped and swept through me again.

I knew enough about Korean corporate culture and succession, that for this, you had to have been groomed.  But starting when?  From a young age?  Had you grown up with chauffeurs and maids, attending school on scholarships?

Those men you got into cars with, had they been drivers in jackets, these men with whom I had accused you of cheating?  Had you been thinking of this fate, all laid out for you, when you first disappeared and you reappeared again, that night we drank with Yong and Moon and Katherine?

Had you been thinking of its consequences, of this fate, every time you bit your lip or creased your eyebrows when I asked you what you were going to do after graduating?

You had to have been thinking of these things every time I asked you about what your family did and you played dumb, saying it had something to do with real estate.

Whenever I asked you where your house was, you refused, saying that it was scandalous for me to know, and whenever I said let’s meet at one of those department stores managed by your father, you started talking about that one very bad experience of customer service, making faces, saying that it had just been bad, so bad, that you would never go there again.

 

But surely, you had considered this life, spread out before you like a banquet, that night in Chuncheon where having drunk profusely, we stood under that full moon huge above the mountains, as if ready to be plucked right out and eaten piece by piece, where the dark valley spread out before us, gaping and vast, over a frozen river that clink clinked and echoed throughout when we threw rocks down on it, where the snow whispering under us was the only other sound.

It was that night we talked until the words themselves changed meaning, forming stars streaming across a new perfect world, when we discovered that we had been looking in exactly the same direction.

That night we covered each other with down and rolled together, and when I touched your face you curled up beside me, because it was so, so cold, and there was the landscape of your neck, alabaster sheen, and we moved together in the stillness, with slight sounds, like lotus leaves dropping slowly from the ceiling, and I laid you down on the bed, light lapping over your body as I held your thighs until they opened and something broke between us and we flowed and cried and laughed, and then we held each other and were brushed with dark fingers, fronds of a plant that grows only in the night.

That night of my mistake, that night when I hesitated, when right before the dawn shot over the hills, you looked at me soberly, from the other side of the fog, directly into my eyes, with your own eyes full of fear and watery courage and said with vicious calm:

Tell me to come with you.

You looked directly into my eyes and whispered, tell me, tell me that.

And I didn’t.


What is love? 

Courage, you said.

The Most Important Thing (Part III)

We had our first fight because I doubted you, because Sam told me that he saw you getting in a car with a man.  You looked at me, shocked, before walking away.

But even then, which was in the middle of Myeongdong on a snow-lined street, as I held an umbrella up against the icy rain, the fog allowed us to forget moments like those quickly, in light of the coming end – which we still never addressed.  We never spoke of it again.

Sometimes the mood grew somber, and you looked into the distance with a slight smile on your face.  You were full of that grace that took nothing for granted, not desiring more than was given, knowing that there were no words that could be said.

You would nod to show that the thought had been considered, but that you would ignore it yet again.  That you would rather not say anything, and you forgot it quickly, letting a giggle or laugh escape, as if your joy were held in delicate vases to be released like strokes of pure delight.

It was in that fog that I learned the first trail of clues that would lead me back to you, years later, when you asked me what I was going to do after graduating, and I said I hadn’t figured it out yet, and you looked at me ponderously, growing quiet.

When I asked you the same question, you pursed your lips and wracked your eyebrows, stuttering out a ‘you know, I don’t know’.  I couldn’t have known it then, but now that answer makes so much sense.

It was in that fog, thick enough to provide a sense of calm, that I climbed to the top of the hill next to school one afternoon.  The air got finer and more attenuated, as I climbed over paths strewn with branches and sunken wooden steps, passing the hiking clubs in their red caps and vests and socks pulled up to the knees.

At the peak I looked out over Shillim, the neighborhood throbbed by the surging wildlife of the city, and felt a moment of peace and asked myself over and over, what if it were all lost?

What do we do when it ends?  And even when confronted by the truth, I could not even comprehend the question.

And so I ignored it, because I could not imagine anything beyond the vastness in every second of every minute.  I could not imagine the future or the past.  I felt no needs, no extraneous desires, and felt a strange sense of settling, an inevitability that I was defenseless against.

And that was what caused me to make my biggest mistake, by not ever answering the question, even when despite the fog you decided that it should be faced, and you broached it for the first and last time, and I hesitated.


During the last waning days, through that last trip to Chuncheon where we rolled in the snow and looked at the full moon rising above the valley, and through the last frantic trips to the beerhouses and bars and food courts and malls, our lives grew taut like we were dancing on the faultlines at the end of the world.

The fog carried us mercilessly right up to the end, because we didn’t know what to do or expect.

It carried us right up to the airport as I was leaving, when I said over and over that I would come back after graduating, when you walked me to the gate and pressed a note in my hand and said not to read it until I got on the plane.

There, as I passed through the sliding door my heart broke into pieces as I waved goodbye, and under the screen I saw your red sneakers stand there, and they stood in place for a while before they turned and slowly walked away.

It was in the remnants of that fog, as I ascended above it on the plane that I took out the note.

It had three characters on it.  I had already known what it would say, because it could only say one thing, and it was dated three months previously.


Then I returned to the States and stayed in my room for three straight weeks, because you wouldn’t pick up your phone, and I debated whether to quit the semester and return for you, which I would have done at the slightest sign, and I ran over and over in my head what had happened and what I had done that made you cut me out of your life.

You had decided something without me.

I played through all the images of our relationship, and I held ambivalently on to those memories, saying that if ever there had existed love then it must be made to stay.

I clutched them, although they increasingly fluttered dimly on my chest, and the days cast jaundiced light on it changing it day by day, because it had grown into a life of its own and did not need me any longer to sustain it, and I knew that its fate was to flicker silently to death.

As the weeks went on, the fog completely lifted, and the memories shuddered through me, fading as I watched, terrifyingly receding, as I sought the faintest smell and slightest gesture that would make you come back, come flooding back.

In darkness I closed my eyes, convulsing at the memories of your smile, a cold breath sweeping through me, leaving me pitted and hollow, and I waited in that darkness, for wisdom to alight drop by drop with awful grace.

Outside my window, I watched a sole leaf hang to a branch, as the weather turned cold and bitter. The wind battered it, but it kept crazily holding on.  It did not fall, though everything around it had changed.

Then the weather grew warmer and let it be.  There was budding growth, and it was fresh but the smell of newness was layered underfoot by its opposite – the smell of festering, a shriveled and ugly death. No longer was there any wind, but no longer were there other leaves, and no longer did it recognize the sun nor the love of its tree. It was alone, and alone it fell.


In the middle of the next semester as it turned to spring again, I had a dream.

A dream where I heard you before I sensed you, a warm laugh, a laugh that filled the caverns where I stayed, and I sensed you before I saw you, a sweet, full thing in that dark, dark night.

The light crept into my eyes, and I saw that it was as if a war had been fought, with debris scattered everywhere.  The wind that had battered the roofs and windows the day before had died down, and tree branches were scattered all over the ground.

The wind had left clairvoyance in its wake.  The air was chilly and cool, and the aching memories and pain that had been so agonizing just the day before, were muted now.

On the ground was a photograph of us, quaint, yellowed and bent.  It was nostalgia bordering on pain but it was not quite pain, it was now merely a memory, not an actual vital thing, because it was no longer part of me.

It was now possible for me to let it go, though I knew that it would stay.  The memory was benign, innocuous, replaced or wrought over with a brush, that same brush that had wrought all this, this battlefield, this life.  Then I saw you in the distance and smiled, while you approached, and we rounded each other, and it was brittle, it was sweet. Things had passed that prevented us from embracing.  But your face was a glow, at peace, and you looked at me intently.

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