In Pyongyang City we pause
at the founders’ portraits.
For a moment we are mesmerized
and then move on—some will dance
near the fountains at Mansudae
and some will board the train
for the northern provinces.
Life’s a spectacle of ghosts
in limbo here, a ceaseless past
knocking without mercy at a set
of iron doors. In the evening
my friends and I go bowling
at the Kim Jong-il Arcade,
drink Chinese beer and listen
to the dong-shu gamble and shout
in a distant parlor. I think about Marx
and the means of production
before I sleep, and hear the woman
in the next apartment pound
the pedal of her sewing machine.
Her rhythm keeps me restless,
keeps me wondering what if
the Americans hadn’t gone away.
Her rhythm makes a blanket
and a menace both, and some days
I want to live without this paradise.
I write “The Beginners” on a Friday night.
One day my daughter might read it,
but probably not. No enduring metaphor
sustains it—I know its flaws and what
it could have been if I were of a different
mood, writing, perhaps, from a hotel room
in Paris. I revise it Saturday and send it
to a magazine in Long Beach, California.
Editor Shari likes it, says its images
recall to her her father’s uncertainty,
and they would like to publish it
in Volume 32. I make coffee; I am pleased.
But it’s not a very good poem. As usual,
I shift away from the meaningful
moment and decide on maybe instead.
Yes—and I wish I had another beer,
and I wish I were wise enough to know
the difference between meaningful
and maybe, but I’m not. In the next room,
my daughter watches monkeys chewing
melon rinds on YouTube, and she laughs,
and she is good because of this, and falls asleep
with a Dorito on her chest.
BEGINNING WITH THE SEA, AN OYSTER FOOT
If you’d listen, I’d whisper the meaning
of our being here this dreadful month,
this dreadful year of uncertainty and greed,
beginning with the sea.
You must stand in it and note an oyster foot,
its colors first: purple darkening
and lightening in different directions,
the sunset sky you know, and then
sleep-white, almost the moon
or your mother’s favorite dress, the one she wore
when you were young and knew only her.
You must remember knowing only her,
a knee against the other, a rustle of flesh
as she cooked your favorite meal:
spaghetti and meatballs, a salad
with a hundred grape tomatoes.
Thousand Island dressing then silence,
then you twisting on the kitchen floor and asking
Why is Daddy happy only sometimes?
What happens when we die? and Am I
the one you had imagined? It’s coming back—
you are coming back—to the thing you were
before, the thing you had to be
before the world turned strange
and you bled then wept at the thought
of your bleeding. You are remembering her
kneeling, wiping your thighs with a cloth
that went from white to red
to purple, almost. This is what I came to tell you.
She knelt and loved you unreservedly,
without control. And made your blood
disappear into darkness.
İnönü wept, İnönü roared,
İsmet İnönü looked from the shore
at Çanakkale and wondered why
the British gunboats went on by.
They looked so little to him,
so wavering and thin,
and past the Aegean to where the sea
turns black. İnönü never prayed; he
wore a thin gray jacket
with the lapels turned back
then strode to his cottage by the sea.
He didn’t look at you and he didn’t look at me.
A man of isn’t or is, he spent
the day’s remains with baklava and bent
flowers, and telephoned Churchill.
We are not fragile,
he said, we are Turks because
the land of was
is now the land of is and
trembled, just a little, in the sand.
Carl Boon is the author of the full-length collection Places & Names: Poems (The Nasiona Press, 2019). His poems have appeared in many journals and magazines, including Prairie Schooner, Posit, and The Maine Review. He received his Ph.D. in Twentieth-Century American Literature from Ohio University in 2007, and currently lives in Izmir, Turkey, where he teaches courses in American culture and literature at Dokuz Eylül University.