By Ishle Yi Park
One day I will write a poem
about my father as a mountain,
and there will be no shame for the dynamite
and the blasted hole, the pickaxes and steam drills
paving their own resolute path,
for the railroad ploughed through his core,
for shattered rocks, for pungent scent of pines.
My father will be a mountain surrounded by wind
that wears him down as slowly as marriage,
as America, as time. But he is still
a man and a mountain: drilled, hammered, alive,
unaware of all who love him from the far track.
—reprinted with the permission of the poet
Ode to the Picnic Singers
(Flushing Meadow Park, 1984)
By Ishle Yi Park
…And then at dusk the woman
climbed atop the picnic table
and belted out a Patty Kim hit,
plastic spoon a clutched mic in her fist!
And the galbi spit and bubbled dark
as azalia and crushed black diamond,
meat soy-sauced and sizzling in the July heatwaves
that hummed like the yellow frisbee flung
over tiny Youna Ean, kneeling among clover and dandelion.
Ay, the sky flapped above us like a soiled workshirt
on a clothesline while we twisted our ankles over Chinese jumprope,
then flew by on flowered banana seats, wind teasing streamers
and the black whips of our hair, past
our brothers in visors and cut-off football tanks,
lost in long switchgrass and dewy goose shit.
And our mothers raced! Piggybacking frilled babies
over grass to catch butter cookies
strung on a white finish line with their teeth,
to the slow butterfly thighs of their men.
Far from the dented Volvos and Hyundais
bereft in the parking lot, these husbands whorled and spun
like dervishes around that imported leather rugby ball
from Seoul, bathed in a halo of their own sweat
and kicked-up dirt. Our parents gathered,
shook loose the workday, their hangook tongues
like wild geese skimming over a cool lake.
They popped open barrel-shaped Budweisers
and let the foam spill over.
My father tilted the can to baby Sarah’s mouth
and laughed at her sputtering, a laughter so serious
I think I forgive him, his hungry rough cheeks stilling
to the woman’s hungry, rough songs. And Jung Yun’s uma
sang like a torn-up hymnal. She sang until we dropped
the twigs and pigeon feathers from our hands
to sit cross-legged in the nest of our mothers,
she sang like a yanked-out phonecord; shrill,
cut, ringing, 70s pop ballad fervid
with religion so unlike our Sunday falsettos,
she sang and we believed in a smaller,
gruffer, chip-toothed god: she sang the dusk down.
And we, staring up at her knees,
rested in the blue fall of each others’ shadows
while the bab and ban chan, paper plates and water coolers
were left, for once, gratefully unattended.
—from Century of the Tiger, Manoa: A Pacific Journal of International Writing (Winter 2002)
New Labor Forum 19(1): 122-123, Winter 2010
Copyright © Joseph S. Murphy Institute, CUNY
ISSN: 1095-7960/10 print, DOI: 10.4179/NLF.191.0000018