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Spring/Summer 2003, Volume 20.3

Poetry

 

Kyongjoo Hong RyouPicture of Kyongjoo Ryou.


Kyongjoo Hong Ryou (Ph.D., U of Utah) teaches 20th Century British and American poetry at Sookmyung Women's University in Seoul, Korea. Her poems have appeared in various magazines, journals, and anthologies.

 

Utah Shijo*

                                       i

In the garden tonight the elms shed snow instead of leaves
Under a lone star seen through the thin weaving branches hardened
By the wintry air—please tell me, haven't I come this far?

                                       ii

A lone bird sits swaying on the tip of an aging birch
Beneath the cloudless sky for which the word "blue" means nothing
But a lack and by which all meanings shine dangerously clear.

                                      iii

Today the air is light enough to ask for my heart and have it,
Clear enough to startle any soul with its blue intensity—
My mind reaches out to the mountains and feels the dark green of its breath.

                                       iv

Green, greener, my one summer idles, three tens and six;
Time blooms, weather improves, leaves on every stump and twig,
And I utterly abandoned by the flowers, by my summer.

                                       v

September. On the gray-brown folds and creases of the mountain
Small round fires, gently contained, roll down all day. On I-80
At dusk the impatient cars line up, looking up at the hill briefly.

                                       vi

On the corner of Seventh E. and S. Temple, Salt Lake City,
A man shouts "Go home," as a red leaf falls on to the windshield.
Clouds pass and pass, yes, yes. Somebody's autumn must be full.

                                      vii

November night. The branches of the sycamores shake
And shed the last few leaves beneath a faint purple green star.
Lessons unlearned by the reasoning self. And the cold air moving in.

                                      viii

When it comes, we are always stunned, though for weeks our thoughts have been
Filling up gently, lightly with its million arrivals.
The city sinks deeper as if to stop from sliding off.

                                       ix

This is the holy quad. You can't know a darker night than the one
Underneath these thousand lights' vigil—for our desire to be
Loved forsakes even Love. For someone must know, someone must approve.

                                       x

Even when the sky told its blue story in green details, flowers bloomed;
Summer turned to add to the story passion but no one knew for what
Till autumn arrived. Now we are bombarded by these white memories.

* Shijo is the representative formal lyric poetry of Korea, its tradition going back 700-800 years, if not further. Unlike its Japanese counterpart, haiku, shijo relies on its phrases (usually 2 to 4 per line) to form a logical development of a captured thought, rather than merely presenting a vignette of a natural or mental landscape. Shijos are traditionally three-lined (although modern variations of its formal structure present to us one of the most diversely experimented mediums), each line containing 14 to 15 syllables that form 2 to 4 phrases. The "trick" is to unite the subject, emotion, and words into its strict form and move them together to a deeper truth, wisdom, or realization.

 

Insomnia

It isn't until I study the inside
Of my eyelids that I realize

How hollow my soul is, that I hear
The train whistle across the town—

Ghostly as the wind that carries it
Above the city's nightly vigil.

Where can it be going at this hour,
Destined for what? the shiny tracks

Continuing around the bend, over the bridge,
Rounding the grave mountainside in the dark,

Parting the air with endless determination, with determined
Endlessness. Only the moon would deepen the singular loneliness

It now carries like coals. That life's true lessons are
Never put into words, that all I can do is to ride

On them and shore against these compound
Namelessnesses passing and passing in my brain—

How can I bear with my open eyes bent on
Marking clarity in every stone and leaf.

Perhaps it's passing Cheyenne or approaching
Rock Springs, the layers of darkness shed

In the wake of each moment's departure, the muffled
Cry of longing growing sonorant in mind's unlit valley.

 

Nocturne

Though I have slept in an orchard
in its watch loft and seen the mooned
and starred sky sieve through the darkened
acacia leaves, have listened
to the dark forest hush down
to the last flutterings of starlings
and the rustling of nameless leaves,
then to the hollow calls of an owl
noting the growing silence (only
then would the quietest shade
of silence emerge with
the cricket's careful notes), though I
have seen how rain etched itself on
the last trace of twilight, and how,
erased by darkness, it filtered all
it touched until the night became
translucent, though I've known nights
of snow and autumn leaves
in the mountains which wouldn't
let me sleep, I am numbed by
your intimate call, city lights,
as I pass by a ninth-floor
library window just now.

The stars seem impatient, subdued
by more than pollution; the moon
lowering itself just above a sky-
scraper blesses your shimmering
order like a heavenly lamp.

O tenebrous beauties, stippled
with ever growing bright designs,
tell me, what are your vigils for?
How did we ever hope to go
back? Wasn't it only natural,
our adoration for you, like
the seafarer's longing for the great
fish, by whose light he dines to
nourish his fathomless mania
to hunt and be hunted by it?

If someone among them were to catch
Just the right slant of moonlight off
a street lamp's argent face, perhaps
ringed by mist, to learn the layers
of silence, I couldn't correct
her. If another, walking out
of a pub, follows the shadows home
and feels lighter on the way,
remembering how the tail-light
of a Subaru incandesced
on a shop window then left for
sleeker darkness, the distant sound
of its engine picked up by
the ten o'clock chimes, I cannot
pull his attention to a grander
landscape or to a keener sound.

 

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