Monthly Archives: April 2010

Let’s Get Something To Eat

Gérôme---Quaerens Quem Devoret

To think!, how primeval the world once was, and how tame it is now! Beaches packed with sunbathers were prowled by hungry lions! Honey, let’s go swimming someplace else!

When The Hail Came To Sasang

Out of the blocked sun, a thunderstorm, and I was up in the gym, on the top floor—a small place, it would seem larger to younger eyes, and the walls have this peculiar padding that absorbs the shock of every blow, so that volleyballs thrown very hard only slam against the surface and slide straight down to the floor—even a three-pronged thunderbolt hurled overhand by Zeus would shatter into glittering glass—at each grumpy grumble from the sky, at each hammering crack, the children in the floors down below screamed together, cutely, harmlessly, not as if they were trapped aboard a medieval galley itself trapped at the heart of surging sea—and for a few moments the white hail roared down and coated the city in a layer of icecubes that quickly liquified into the usual glassy puddles, as the sun drew itself out from the clouds again.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Ichadon, or, How Buddhism Came To Korea: A Romance of Flying Severed Heads (Part 2)

First read this, and then read this.

At the foot of the holy Geumgang Mountains in a wide yellow rice paddy a venerable old villager named Wan Li was bent over his crops when, in the muddy reflective water rippling in the depths of a nearby trough, he swore to god he saw—but no, it couldn’t be. He looked up at the white cloudy Korean sky, typical weather in this seasonless land, and saw, despite himself, a man’s head!, a man’s flying head silhouetted black against the bright white light!! It was easy to mistake the head for a bird, not only because the head was flying (seemingly of its own volition or perhaps as a result of some sort of complicated catapult or trebuchet or cannon-blast) but because the head possessed a glorious mane of happy black hair that was sailing, billowing, joyously behind it, like a pair of flapping wings.

This would have been strange enough to entertain generations of children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren, hundreds of times, but this was only the beginning of the strange reality of the flying severed head, because there were actually many other strange qualities to the flying severed head, as if a flying severed head were not strange enough by itself: the neck-stump, “or whatever you want to call it”—as Wan Li later explained to his wife, whose arms were crossed and whose dainty little foot was tapping and whose face bore the stamp of exasperated skepticism—the neck-stump! the neck-stump! was dripping some sort of milk, and was completely white and not red at all—a drop or two got Wan Li in the eye, and he cried out—“augh! augh! not again!”—while the face bore an expression of what can only be called bodhisattvan happiness, smirking, dimpling, its eyes bright stars.

In a very peculiar silence the flying severed head floated—quickly? slowly? how fast do these things usually move?—up to the peaks of the green-forested Geumgang Mountains. And although Wan Li stood rooted to the spot for a good solid hour, staring at the mountaintops, the world went on as if nothing strange had happened at all, as Wan Li’s home was some distance from the place of the monk Ichadon’s execution, where all sorts of odd cataclysms were taking place.

At the end of his involuntary meditation Wan Li decided to go up the mountain, right then and there, and find out what had happened to the flying severed head. And he did just that. He straightened his sunhat, cracked his back, and set off at once without a scrap of lunch in his belly: and some days later after many travails he reached the sacred temple at the top, where the flying severed head was sitting in the lap of a beautiful maiden, who was petting its hair and scratching its cheeks.

“Aahhhh,” the head said, rolling its eyes, “that feels so good. Just a little higher, aahh, oh yeah, right there. You know what? Life as a severed head could be a lot worse. I could get used to this.” The maiden giggled and also maybe even allowed a light red flush to float to her cheeks.

Another hour of frozen staring on the part of Mr. Wan Li followed, during which time he witnessed far too many things that are far too terrible to mention. But just as he snapped out of it and just as he was leaving he heard the head say—

“Okay, so I’m here, but now what do I do?”

Tagged , , , , , ,

Ichadon, or, How Buddhism Came To Korea: A Romance of Flying Severed Heads

First read this.

“Well,” said the executioner to his companion as they watched the flying severed head soar, smiling, to the holy Geumgang Mountains, while its decapitated trunk toppled to their feet and sprayed white milk—breastmilk? cowsmilk? buttermilk? or Korean bananamilk?—everywhere, absolutely everywhere, “Well,” said the executioner to his companion as flowers of all kinds poured down from the sky, smacking their heads (sunflowers) and gathering at their feet, piling up to their ankles—“Well,” said the executioner to his companion as the moon eclipsed the sun and as a nearby mountain range that was not the Geumgang Mountain Range exploded and poured fire and lightning-lit ash into the darkening sky, shaking the earth and knocking the two men over and also canceling flights all over Europe for weeks—“Well,” said the executioner to his companion, lying at his side, and drowning in flowers, ash, and milk of some kind, “I guess we shouldn’t have killed that guy!”

Tagged , , , , , ,

So Above, So Beneath

You’ve got to duck down to get to the Deokcheon Dungeon, and by that I mean you’ve got to go underground, descending via talking escalator, elevator, or slab staircase to a long throat of concrete: there is the Deokcheon Dun-geon: there is Deokcheon Fashion Street, where in windows stand imprisoned mannequins, their thin limbs draped in the bleached tatters that pass for fashion these days: men are never in shorts: women bear legs up to the ass-cheek, but you won’t find a shade of luscious cleavage, for that would be obscene, their nipples flat and tame and quite unlike the armored spikes of the west, erect, at attention, ready for action: all beneath typical pale electronic light, all above the gawking stares of teenagers, babbling gaggles released from eternal rote-memorization so they can slurp at straws and catcall sensitive foreign men!—one day the sewer pipes burst, flooding Fashion Street with shit, stuffing shit down its choking throat, and the strange thing is that nobody notices the difference, and though the populace must wade through steaming piles of their own shit, things go on as before. So above, so beneath.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

[Her voice] enables readers to overlook the occasional moments of awful writing (“It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds”).

—from the book review.

Such lines with such site-specific criticism call into doubt every word I’ve ever written, thought, or said. Is that truly bad? Is my writing truly bad? Yes I’m aware of the gangly stilting lilting germanical awkwardness of the had been tense and am likewise aware that I write purple in the face, quite a contrast to the watery restraint of various New Yorkish publications—but purple blood is thicker than water. I’ve never forgotten, but also never put into practice, the technique espoused by Benjamin Franklin—to take a favored essay, and attempt to rewrite it and make it better. Now can we do the same with this mere line? As Orlando Bloom asks, what man is a man who does not try to make the world better?

First, let’s diagnose.

It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

Seemed. As always, fellow purple-facer Shakespeare says it best—Seems, madam, Nay, it is. I know not ‘seems. So remove it! It either is or it isn’t! Like. The metaphor is the key to this line but it requires some untangling; if I’m right, and I’m probably not, the line could be some reference to the proverbial Homeric eagle or bird or falcon or whatever carrying a snake in its talons, which is often taken as a metaphor for something or other, depending on whether the snake sinks its fangs into the bird’s thigh and pumps it full of green toxins, or whether it’s flying to the left or to the right—at any rate such sights are rarities enough in the real world to count for something, even though they aren’t rare at all in Homerland—so birds drop portents, or snakes, sometimes, that’s what she’s possibly obliquely referencing, but the had been is what mucks it all up, I think, and after that everything flies apart—the birds here are swooping passively, and to add insult to injury, they’re swooping in, almost like delivery boys rather than sparrows or hawks or sparrowhawks. Dropped onto us sounds like the birds are shitting on our heads and the twittering is, like my existence, superfluous.

So now that we have identified the problems, or, at the very least, scratched the iceberg-tip of the blackheaded nose, we may prescribe a cure!

It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

Let’s make things active and begin at a basic level, making sure to preserve the meaning. It was as if a flock of birds had dropped a portent in my lap. I just left that and came back after a minute and concluded with this thought: No, no, that still sounds like shit. Only the woman who wrote that book about eating and praying and loving and Julia Roberts and pedophiliac sex tourists talk about things falling in laps. We can assume that the line before said something like: things got bad, or, obviously, things were starting to look bad…etc., etc…

…therefore let us try a different approach, preserving meaning (more or less) but abandoning absolutely everything else: it was like seeing a bird fly by with a writhing snake in its grasp, on the left, no less, and the moment you look at it the snake bites the bird and the bird goes screaming down to the house of death. I’m confident that—in the Flaubertian mode—if I look away from that sentence and return to it I will inevitably conclude that it is nothing except an example of his fabled supershit…mmm, no, maybe not, it’s ridiculous, but at least it’s fun, and while it’s probably totally out of keeping with the rest of the book, written in the voice of one who does not read the prescribed ten pages for every page that you write, ten pages of, like, literature—it’s still preferable to that which I must repeat again:

It seemed like some big portent had just been swooped in and dropped onto us by twittering birds.

It was like seeing a bird fly by with a writhing snake in its grasp, on the left, no less, and the moment you look at it the snake bites the bird and the bird goes screaming down to the house of death.

If it’s better, then it’s hardly a triumph to triumph over something weak, or stupid. Let’s try saying the first line of Moby Dick better than Herman Melville, let’s rewrite an aphorism of Nietzsche—two challenges, two examples of those few things that are truly impossible

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

What’s the story? (Digressions in Slashes / Exercises in Futilitas)

So little written in two weeks? Why? Trying to branch out.

Now that my roots are taking root and I’m seriously considering staying another year I’ve made greater attempts to establish myself / seeing serious friends more often / making serious attempts to make new friends / exercising more and at greater length (the winding blue river Nakdong / not seven-hilled Namsanjeong) / exploring on foot with camera more of the familiar and unfamiliar / hooked on new writing project / hundred pages poured forth like leaves from Daphne’s fingertips! / continuously “pulling out all the stops” after yet another banal romantic debacle / with someone who will, we must assume, wish she’d acted otherwise one day / as I wish I’d acted otherwise with others / her included.

The returns of blogging are remarkably limited / younger blogging alienated me from my high school far more than the usual youthful idiocies and indiscretions ever could have / a nightmare about high school (I was simply there / nightmare enough!) involving certain characters certainly written about in the sublunar harem kept me home sick shivering in shock / god what did I see in her? / what was I thinking? / wasn’t! / facebook rehashes terror and shame / gah! / praise god for time and the speed of the years / for nothing is faster / so the returns of blogging are remarkably limited / a few hits on the counter, a rare comment or two / anyone impressed? think not! / while even to trade trivialities with human faces is pleasant / and the more we fish, the more we catch / for many months I was holed up like an Iowan survivalist / waiting out the siege, dining on horseflesh / and only a change in the situation at work involving more time far more pleasant human beings than the single creature I was constantly stuck with constantly changed the situation in me, when I began realizing that things weren’t so bad, and that the rancid venom I was spitting from my snarling viper fangs had lost its spritz! / drowned in the laughter of the many young friends I’ve made

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A Food Post (Digressions in Dashes)

A moment ago I lost it—a memory of a classroom full of very young Korean children, all of whom were sitting in their little desks, clapping their hands, and chanting 이름! 이름! eerum! eerum!—name! name!, a word that sounds like my name, and which they thought was my name, Ian—though it makes no sense of any kind for a room full of children to be chanting name! name! name! in my direction—his name is Name!—and, indeed, later, while I continued to lunch with them, I pinched a strawberry between my long cool slender steel chopsticks, maneuvered it to my lips, much to their amusement, as I was there primarily as American amusement ambassador—am I an American anymore? when does the citizenship statute of limitations expire? at what point do I become le citoyen du monde? simple human being? earthling?—and they began gasping and clutching their faces as I pushed the strawberry closer to my yawning gorge, because there are certain things you must always always do when you eat in Korea, a state that practices gastronomic tyranny, and one thing you must always do is never eat the green leaves of the wild strawberry, which I did, shutting my lips around the fruit and in so doing causing a chorus of shrill shrieks to erupt and fill the classroom—but they soon dissipated and things went on as usual—I harangue them by positioning my steel lunch tray incorrectly, they tell me to move it, and I do so incorrectly, frustrating them further—but it also bothers the teachers—one of whom politely but forcefully adjusted it for me—just today I caused a grandmotherly type to recoil in horror as she saw that I had put the kimchi in the wrong place—you’d have thought it was the severed head of Kim Yuna I was poking (with my chopsticks), and not pickled cabbage, remember—a memory brightened to life.

Tagged , , , , ,

From Phlegm to Apothegm

Today I ran from 구포 (Gupo) to 하단 (Hadan), a flat and gentle distance of about ten or fifteen kilometers; I believe I spit about ten or fifteen times, and while I never hawk up phlegm I do make it a point of honor to spit as far as possible while running, and may be capable of firing a salivitic projectile a full two meters, which makes me rather dangerous, particularly to those who dishonor me or my friends; such copious spitting, combined with copious sweating, coated my face in a flaky mask of dried sweat, and depleted the blue reserves of hydrogen dioxide stored in my fuel tanks, to the extent that I was forced to replenish my supply by cupping my hands under the faucet on the left in the men’s bathroom of the Hadan subway station, which was actually occupied by a number of women who do a good job of impersonating men; I cupped these sturdy little hands under the faucet approximately ten or fifteen times, and drank the cool liquid therein with a loud, luscious slurping sound that could be heard over the flushing urinals (all of which possess movement sensors and therefore flush constantly due to the pranks of ghosts) and surely echoed out through the entirety of the station and even up into downtown Hadan proper, which I was then visiting for the first time, having never possessed a single reason to go there; while gulping down my fuel I did not look at myself in the mirror as I think I look even worse than usual while under physical duress, or while recovering from it.

I witnessed a number of surreal oddities, or surrealities, as one always does when one walks out the door in South Korea. On a particularly long stretch of strange, soft turf by the highway—one which was so long it stretched out and vanished into the horizon, like a railroad, or an illustration of perspective—I came upon an old man who was calmly walking backwards in a straight line. Earlier in the run I passed a (different) old man who was sitting on a bench while singing loudly to himself and kicking his legs back and forth like a child or a king upon a throne; such a sight will surely be included in further literary works in the same way that the caged panther Dante once saw in Florence lunging back and forth behind its bars lunged its way into the first lines of his Inferno.

Near Sasang-on-the-Nakdong a number of old men were rolling up mats made of straw, for no reason, to the pounding synthesized rhythms of some distant but seemingly nearby speakers; later on a sign only in English directed one ninety meters through an eerie field of wet elephant grass to a Migratory Bird Observation Tower, though no tower was to be seen anywhere except for the towering and excruciatingly-loud construction equipment somewhat downstream that no doubt frightened away most of the humans in the area as well as all of the birds. Despite the manifestly polluted quality of the Nakdong, which is not a river of water so much as a slurching worm of green sewage and waste, coated in scales of plastic wrappers, old men were sitting around everywhere and fishing. Few young people were to be seen, as the thin ones do not exercise while the fat ones are too embarrassed to do so; many elders were training on peculiar jungle gyms for the impending conflict with Bokan, or North Korea. Because communists make frequent use of monkey bars and merry-go-rounds in their invasions of southern capitalist neighbors one can have little doubt that the elders of Daehan Minguk will be well-prepared.

As I moved the apartment tenements shifted position against the flowing trees of the mountains, and the gate of a vast, unknown fortress was seen tucked into their slanting diagonals.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

A History Of Other Cleopatras

So few know how the last pharaoh was in possession of that unique ugliness which only belongs to the inbred.

In response to a recent and excessively tame book review

Cleopatra I, nicknamed Syra because it was rumored that she was not born from the usual intercourse between consenting, loving, and married adults of different lineages, but actually the result of a curious concoction of the desert sands of Syria. Every now and then the elements mix together to create a human being, and the earth of the Middle East is particularly well-suited for this; Auda ibu-Tayi claimed to have been produced by a human woman and a (presumably male) scorpion. Cleopatra I Syra was a living proteus, ebbing and flowing from place to place like a sandstorm, and her voice was said to be indistinguishable from that of the gales sifting through the dunes. She was allergic to water and all liquids and was in the habit of constantly carrying a parasol in case of rain, which she would sometimes use to beat her bumbling attendants. She lost her left pinkie toe when an infatuated man, who was drooling over her, managed to kiss it; the man was executed by being drowned, Heliogabalus-style, in a sea of bloodied pinkies, which Cleopatra ordered hacked off the feet of all of her slaves.

She is the namesake of all later Cleopatras and the founder of the nomenological line; she died when she fell off the royal barge while trying to re-fasten the belt buckle of her favorite dwarf jester and sistrum-playing minstrel, Pumilio; upon striking the black waters of the Nile she melted down instantly to mud and was presumably carried out into the Mediterranean through the rich estuaries of the green, papyrus-wavering delta. It became an Egyptian aphorism to say that sand runs in the blood of the Cleopatras.

Due to this woman’s profligacy the nation of Egypt and the Hellenistic lands of the East were overrun with Cleopatras, and not just human Cleopatras, either, but the name was a favorite one for the divine black Egyptian cats up until the time of the Muslim conquest, and it was even said that a parrot with the name Cleopatra unsuccessfully warned the doomed Pompey of the unpleasant fate that awaited him in the thigh-deep waters off the Egyptian coast; the bird spoke Latin, but bad Latin, and mixed his Cassandraisms with an unbelievable string of curses, swears, and deprecations. Pompey, who left tooth marks on the marble or ebony shoulders of every woman he slept with, could not abide such profanity, and ignored it, to his great regret in the Elysian Fields, where he is forced to ride a horse through plains of sunny golden grain while carrying a severed head, perhaps his own.

Tagged , , ,