August 2018 Poetry Feature: New Poems by Loren Goodman

This month we welcome back contributor LOREN GOODMAN, the author of Famous Americans, selected by W. S. Merwin for the 2002 Yale Series of Younger Poets, Suppository Writing, and New Products. He is an associate professor of creative writing and English literature at Yonsei University / Underwood International College in Seoul, South Korea, and serves as the UIC Creative Writing Director.

 

RAPTURE

The Rabbi’s little son
Decked out in stripes
One leather strap
Over the edge
Of the black
Lacquer box wrapsThe tefillin I
Have taken from my
Head as he is
Wrapped by the
Stripes on his shirt
As I watch
I am rapt
As the boy
As I unwrap
The left strap
From my arm
As the boy
Wraps the strap
Falls off as
He starts again
Wrapping one strap
Over the bulge
Of the next
As I watch
And think maybe
Maybe someday
I’ll be like him
I’ll be able to do this

 

GIVING BACK

Giving back has always been a central
Park West in my life, which was highly
Influenced by my childhood
Growing up in a developing room

In 2008, my mother introduced me
To the camera man. I was shocked
By the electricity coursing through
His veins. Most children were not
Able to receive such an education

Giving back has always been my personal
Statement, so I have decided to give back
To those who could not even dare to be
Ignored. Instead of being the recipient
Of the perks of a good lie, I gave birth to
A three year old boy. But I realized I could
Do even more by making his life my major

My understanding of the field of grassroot
Development has little to do with the
Lawnmower. I suppose I could say more
About how I was able to learn top-down
Politics as a topless dancer; how to
Climb trees, gather nuts and needles;
Needless to say, my curiosity and desire
To save the flowers, animals and lives of
People in this field grows more and more

 

 

CATERPILLAR DRIVE

“They never fully developed
It—sea water passes through
Turbines, the submarine cycles
Through it and, through a cycling
Process, drives it—very silent—
But there were problems
Problems with speed”

If I could only express
My feelings in the moment
Instead of hiding them
Under watered-down
Recollections of late night
Submarine movie talks
Designed to ping us
Through shark-infested
Loneliness…

or design
a submarine that runs
on loneliness…

 

 

FUNK MUSIC

She said my stories
Were like jazz
And hers like funk
And together we made
A brass band

 

 

HYE WAH IN AUTUMN

Leaves as big as tortillas
Fall and wrap the sidewalk
Champ nuzzles the smaller
Yellow ginkos
That blanket our steps

 

 

KINDLING

There are so many people
In the firelight
And so little fire
In the flame
And so little fire
In the people
And so many people
Not to blame

 

 

THE RIGHT TO WRONG SIJO

Seven years in Korea alone
Never knowing if I’m right
Or been wronged
Tonight let’s take no sake
But a sip of Andong snow juice

 

 

A TIC

The tic is a nasty
Animal. Look how it
Gets inside Roman-
Ticism, not for love—

Inside the Roman
Inside the man

 

 

As I look out the window on the way to Incheon airport at a perfect Godzilla cloud, I’m just happy to see clouds. When I first visited Seoul in 2001, the air was gray. It has gotten much worse.

A modest expatriate, I’ve lived outside the US for nineteen years. Most of my students too, have lived abroad. Many are the children of missionaries. Yonsei University was started by American missionaries, including the Underwood family, after which our International College is named. There’s something nice about teaching creative writing at a university that was built on typewriters.

Sometimes I also feel like I’m on a mission…

Life in Japan made it possible for me to make my play my work. This happened again in Korea, but only after death. Then—when all seemed lost—I found dreams. Funny how one country can be another’s afterlife.

One of the most remarkable—and unexpected—effects of long-term life in English-language education in East Asia has been becoming Eastern European.

After five or six years in Japan, I flew back to a party at a publisher’s house on the Lower East Side. Talking, cocktails in hand, it felt good to be back in New York. Fifteen minutes in, my charming conversation partner asked:

“Where are you from?”

“Where am I from?”

“Yes.”

“From here.”

“New York??”

“No—I grew up in Kansas.”

“Really?”

“Yes—why?”

“Oh I just thought you had an unusual accent.”

“What kind?”

“I was thinking Eastern Europe.”

* * *

What’s it like being a professor in Korea? Somewhere between bathing in the unbelievable Confucian reverence for scholars and the following Lydia Davis-like exchange:

“Hello?”

“Hello. I would like to submit my documents for conference funding.”

“Are you a Professor?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. How may I help you?”

“I would like to submit my documents for conference funding.”

[Pause]

“Are-are you a professor?”

“What—you don’t believe me? I just told you I was a professor.”

“Sorry. Please don’t misunderstand.”

* * *

I assume that the administrator’s difficulty in imagining me as a professor derived purely from differences of physical appearance. Here such differences make one always conspicuous; a subject of curiosity, rage, desire. As such a “foreigner,” at times, I feel always on display (zoo animal); there is no place to hide. Chest groped on the street after weight training; ass and crotch grabbed at by bosses and students alike; shoved on stage to sing Bruce Springsteen (then given $100 cash). Most of the time, I enjoy it. Beyond that, it moves to self-reflection. Being looked at with wonder, curiosity and disbelief makes me so look at myself—and everyone, and everything else. In every encounter: energy transfer. Fractured language. Electricity in every look and touch. It can be exhilarating, shocking, exhausting—depending on what you do with it. How you transform it, so to speak.

 (—Loren Goodman)

 

 

Read more from Loren Goodman here.

Emily EverettAugust 2018 Poetry Feature: New Poems by Loren Goodman

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