Thursday, July 30, 2009

Seoul Writings II

Gyeongbok Palace

Six-Fold Screen of the Sun, Moon and Five Peaks.
Eight-Fold Screen of Peonies and Rocks.
Ten-Fold Screen of Shelves Full of Books.
Faint sounds of Royal Court Music dispell past affairs of guilt & torment like visionary footsteps echoing in the cavernous hollow Palace building new consciousness of the old.

Seonyu Island

Frogs random croaking tickles the strolling couples amourous desires.
Gentle waterfalls soothe the weight of time wrinkles on faces of three older woman friends.
Men gamble & fish freely in the wind playing to catch treasures of leisure.
We descend steps disappearing into the Han under the arced bridge sweeping all cares to the warm night sky on heavenly swings.

Seowon Temple in Maputo

Climb to the top
not to look down
or out over
but look on
the golden hand.

Prayer gesture
Imploring tomorrow
for yesterday's gratitude.

I saw the newsroom today.
What a lucky man.

Odusan Unification Observatory

At the bottom of the escalater waits a quiet figure. He will share his home & guide us through ancestral rites with hopes & desires of future respect & dignity.

We peer across the golden face of Buddha & the serene Imjin river to distant lands - "Are you happy?" she asks. Please sing.

Missed at Gangseo

Auntie while looking at photos laughed so hard her belly button fell off.

Neice grabbed it & threw it high behind her. A fly flew after it but her uncle got the belly button first - unfotunately he swallowed the fly.

Not even all the tricks, dances, drumming and spectacle of the evening airirang party could release the fly.
They even ate sweet cake but nothing worked.

Finally Uncle offered niece the top cherry thinking it to be most desireable. Biting into the sour cherry neice squeezed her face so tight her belly button shot out & the fly flew out of uncle to catch neice's belly button but missed.
Instead it bounced into Auntie.

Niece grabbed Auntie's navel from uncle's pocket & pushed it onto herself. Everyone was happy even though Neice & Auntie switched belly buttons.

Foot of Daemosan / Ping pong

The other you face is a cautious player who accepts your inexperience for the art of the beginner is finding the rhythm of action in the space between. Allow the ball or person to simply come & meet.

We wander late along Yangjae stream the air fresh from seeping water of the rainy season floods. Catching the last metro, not all the way home we spill out into the Saturday night crush & walk till tiredness.

Paths never end. We must choose our distance & open to the space between knowing inevitably the journey chooses us.


Carved into the rock of a public fountain at Taehakno are some masks of Samdaenori like some forgotten shrine - the water has run dry. Only the old & destitute stop to rest. The statue of commerated Korean patriot Kim Sang Ok stands guard in the park.

Cotton candy, shiny trinkets, hat sellers, blaring music, park buskers & posters for the latest international glittzy musicals are the distractions of today.
We escape the sudden rain to sip on green tea feeling the past abandoned.

Water flows. "... tears like the vaporous steam forming on a cooling glass well up in my eyes." (Yi Sang from Child)


An older couple, young of spirit, runs the neighbourhood - shop. The tiny space, barely large enough for three, bursts with chaotic order.

They ply their trade bridging the past with the modern midst fading certificates, ancient carving tools, an old computer and copier, wooden shelves cluttered with papers, a phone with oversize buttons, a wooden filing cabinent & a case filled with various brands of cigarettes which seem to be the only money making part of their business.

Our first visit was to obtain a family seal. A cordial welcome accompanied with smiles, politeness & curiosity made for a pleasant meeting of traditional restraint.

The second visit required scanning documents onto a memory stick. I watched as the man skillfully worked an elderly woman's seal teaching her how to twist & pull the top with a joke & a laugh.

The women meanwhile worked with careful efficiency and concentration on the computer without the slightest betrayal that this technology may be new for her. She presented us with juice as we waited. A few more personal exchanges lifted the formality to familiarity.

One muggy evening returning home at days end our paths crossed on the street. We bowed to each other with genuine smiles of recognition.

The third visit was a late night visit to make copies. An outbreak of animated discussion transformed into an english lesson. The man was alone. Supper was cooking on the hotplate. He shoved it underneath the shelf apologizing for the smell explaining times were tough and ordering food everyday was now impossible. He shifted handfuls of paper off the copier and engaged in playful banter.

Before I knew it he was searching through the filing cabinet drawers pulling out his english folder. The top of his notebook read "Welcome to our English class." He was attending the free language class offered by the community.

He peppered my wife with questions pointing to phrases, asking for help and finally turned to me requesting to hear a native speakers inflection. He laboriously repeated over & over: "Everything demands some work." He stumbled on the 's' & slurred the words but I marvelled at his persistence.

We suggested he use this phrase while encouraging his son who was studying hard to switch to a higher status university for his final fourth year.

The woman arrived. Surveying the scene she reached into a hidden fridge bidding us quite insistently to accept a bag full of seasonal melons. Eventually we paid a nominal fee for the copies. As we left both of them suggested we come whenever we like even if we have no work.

Embrdded In this city of high octane energy & ambition is a timeless oasis.

" I'll go back to heaven again.
At the end of my outing to this beautiful world
I'll go back and say: that was beautiful. . . . "
- Ch'õn Sang-Pyõng

(translated from the Koean by Brother Anthony of Taizė)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Seoul writings

Dangsan: Day One

the green & wood
embrace & edge
tongues of form
reach for expectant joy

Dangsan: Skies open

Hard rain through night.
Tiny districts folded within each other like streams pouring souls to the Han.

Mapo-gu, Sungsan-1-dong (Family visit)

Rabbit wanted to eat tiger.
Brother tiger had been kind
showing pictures of when they were babies.
Instead rabbit climbed his mothers back
& clung tightly most of the night.

Insa-dong (Inner district)

Shadow birds converge on blue pots
as red women divulge secret worlds.
The trickster monk cries "Come, come hold the paper." Sketches a show - we are all poor artists.

Insa-dong (Inner district) Part 2

Be free whisper all the quiet places of beauty.
We are serious & socially responsible.
We scream in tender silence our love for our community.
We are the outliers.
Share the dream.

Outside people jostle for every inch in the heat.

North Korean Studies (Gyongnam)

Books, books & books with wings.
Refugees in order.
Where's number 23?
Hands of the blind
anticipates building
memoirs of flight.
Do you study to forget?
The night dreamers never forget.

Inchon & Wolmi Islands

The loving pre-teen & pre-old spirits
welcome us through the islands.
The caring brother & sister's hands
guide passages from ancient parks to ocean shores.
Gulls dance truth & reconciliation
on the sea breeze remembering the napalm & strafing.
Give thanks with paper crane in pocket & shik hae in backpack.

KoreaHouse Sijo

At foot of Namsan mountain family of twenty feasts.
One of the six martyred ministers watches warily.
Heat of day cools hidden passions blessing youngest sister.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Shadowy Line


... the movement of an artist from the world of practice often comes with great mourning & even greater reflection ... Pina Baush preserved her dignity and spirit with considered if not miraculous attention ... others not so ...

... the present media frenzy surrounding MJ allowed me to reflect on an aged post: "it is impossible not to contemplate with a shudder the shadowy line between art, ecstasy and psychosis."

. . . Cox in his “documentary” about the Russian born dancer Nijinsky The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is quoted: “Nijinsky was a beautiful spirit. He went mad because of his love of mankind. We live in a world that has gone crazy – it is no wonder that souls like Nijinsky go mad.” Words as if spoken towards any artist humbled by their own demons & excesses of a hungry sensibility, extreme traumatic periods & victim of time and place.

... further darker evidence:
"Once we commit ourselves to a passion, noble or sordid, it is of no importance, we are certain to proceed from torment to torment. The very aptitude to endure them shows that we are predestined to suffer. We love only because unconsciously we have renounced happiness. The Brahmanic adage is irrefutable: 'Each time you create a new tie, you drive another pain, like a nail, into your heart.' - Everything that fires our blood, everything that gives us the impression of living, of being a part of being, inevitably turns to suffering. A passion is in and of itself a punishment. The man who surrenders to it, even if he supposes himself the happiest man in the world, expiates by anxiety his real or imagined happiness. Passion attributes dimensions to what has none, makes an idol or a monster out of a shadow ..." (Cioran | The Fall into Time |On Sickness p.137)

- See: Memorium

:: note ::... connections between Nijinski & Michael Jackson may seem tenuous but a spirit tortured not ...