From Real Karaoke People
Seasons of Hair
I know men who survive
by their women’s hair, its scent
a force field each winter dawn
shuffling steps at the bus stop
In spring, smiles resurface, hands
hungry to unjam storm windows,
re-thread bolts and grease bicycle chains;
clanks under engine blocks
drive wasps crazy; a dancing
ankle turned on a wine bottle in the grass
Summer evenings around a picnic
table metropolis’d with food and condiments,
the man’s fingers sweep the moon
from his wife’s black mane, humming
of lovers in an oarless boat on the East Sea…
While breezes blanket our exhaustion
from an afternoon full of trees
But my favorite season is autumn,
when my father’s evening tea changes color
for all the leaves fallen into the river,
and my mother rests on the sofa
after work and asks
me to remove any silver
from her hair
like sewing in reverse
Riot in Heaven
for Edward Song Lee (b.1974, d. 1992 in the L.A. Riots)
there is only one corner grocery in heaven.
it is gigantic, the size of a million Wal-Marts.
here, you can find anything on the shelves.
prehistoric flint, pomegranates, magic carpets.
the only problem is the store is so large
you rarely see anybody else.
and however many things you can fit in your arms
you’ll never find the checkout counter.
at first all my fingers were weighed down
by diamond and platinum rings.
now i only wear white and black jogging sweats and Adidas,
the old school kinds my parents bought me
when first we arrived in America.
sometimes while wandering these aisles
i stumble over piles of merchandise abandoned.
barbie dolls, Van Gogh originals, sacks of spilled rice.
i pick the items up and put them back on their proper shelves
like i did all through my childhood in Koreatown.
only now i don’t mind it so much.
when i arrived, some of the rioters
who didn’t know they were dead
roved up and down these rows pushing
shopping carts loaded with stereos and VCRs,
huffing crazed looks on blood-streaked faces,
their lopsided bodies shadowless under fluorescence.
the original Tyndale Bible i once found
trampled in the Meat section. its pages
scattered with bootprints.
i unpeeled them
and put the book back with the others
in Sacred Texts.
as i passed i saw the Devil
folded in dark contemplation.
then again, it may have been Jesus
wrapped in smoldering saffron.
or some Buddhist monk;
i’ve followed a few of them around…
once, i spotted Latasha Harlins:
that black girl from South Central who punched
a Korean shop keeper in the face
a year before the fires
over accusations and a bottle of orange juice
then got shot in the back walking out…
she was standing in a Raiders jersey
on the far end of Music & Entertainment.
Latasha!, i called out.
i was moving fast, because around here
you only get one chance if you recognize someone.
she looked up from a CD case and i saw her eyes widen.
Wait, don’t run!
then she turned around and pulled out a gun.
i could hear her headphones still blaring.
Don’t come any closer! she yelled.
The Korean lady who shot you! i said. She went insane!
Step back yo or I’ll blow your head off!!
My mother sang with her in church choir!
I said stay the fuck back!!!
But it’s all right now!
Are you deaf you dumb fucking—!!!
even in heaven you can’t die twice.
so i just stood there, my heart
dripping through my fingers
like wealth in my father’s unfortunate line.
maybe i should have chased after her;
tried to explain desperation
knows no race,
no color, no culture…
but it was too late,
The Man From Guangdong
Before hosing down the fluorescent-flickering dish room and kitchen floors and half dozen grease grills at Johnny Wong’s Chinese Buffet, the man from Guangdong and I sit out back on overturned five-gallon tofu buckets, trading silences. It is an unusually cool night for mid-summer in Pueblo, Colorado. The Taiwanese management and Mexican cooks gone home. All the broken dishes swept into piles, the small metal dressing cups and silverware hand-dug out of the garbage.
Marlboros and Vantages crackle minutely between our lips.
Like this, he tells me of a young woman in one of the freighters with him. A new soul who smelled of the pine needles she kept in her pocket for good luck. They spoke the same dialect and spent three weeks side by side, confined with the two dozen other Southern Chinese in the rusty hold of the ship, 24 hours a day, except once a week to bathe in icy sea water up on deck. To pass time on their backs in the dark they talked about what they’d do in America; the businesses each would open. She was destined for Flushing where she had a great aunt. He himself hadn’t thought much further than to work as a farmer or kitchen hand to pay off the debt of his passage.
One night a snakehead, slurring Cambodian speech, came down into the hold. Clinking a rifle against the pipes. A former Khmer Rouge assassin turned people-smuggler. She went up with the man on deck without a fight. When she came back a few hours later, the girl didn’t speak. For three days. And then, in darkness, she crawled to an opposite corner of the hold, over bodies too sick and tired to groan. And a couple of days later, the same clinking returned.
“Life no good for some,” he says.
From the city pound, he keeps a dog chained behind his boarding house. A scrawny, mean mongrel that claws at the dirt and beer cans, and whimpers at night. Neighborhood kids taunt the animal. Not black, not white, a sickly brown, yellowish around the pink eyes and gray jowls. I want to tell them the dog is the future state of their souls. To treat it well. Respectful that it has survived this long alone.
But I’m only a few years older than the hooded thugs who spit at the animal when it barks on its chain. A wild, angry thing. I’m American, and I don’t have half the language this man from Guangdong possesses as he bolts out the back door wielding a cleaver.
The kids laugh and run.
The dog whimpers.
The man is breathing hard.
A few mutilated clouds oversee all.
And I know. In a thousand years, nothing will change.
We eat. We die. We search. Try to love in the dark.
The dog’s soul isn’t theirs, but mine. Look how he licks my hand when I come around. Limping after the gnawed tennis ball I throw down the alley when we walk him. How he drops the damp object in my palm, and bows. And I remember as a boy waking up in the middle of many nights beside my bed with the light still on. Hands clasped hard together. A dazed angel on the carpet fallen asleep mid-flight. A crooked crucifix on the wall, my only navigational device.