The Korean Community Garden in Queens
In the vacant lot nobody else wanted to rebuild,
dirt scumbled for years with syringes and dead
weed-husks, tire-shreds and smashed beer bottles,
the first green shoots of spring spike through—
bullbrier, redroot, pokeweed, sowthistle,
an uprising of grasses whose only weapons are themselves.
Blades slit through scurf. Spear-tips spit dust
as if thrust from the other side. They spar and glint.
How far can they climb, grappling for light?
Inside I see coils of fern-bracken called kosari,
bellflower cuts named toraji in the old country.
Knuckles of ginger and mugwort dig upward,
working through soil and woodlice until they break
the surface. Planted by immigrants, they survive,
like their gardeners, though ripped from their
native plot. What is it that they want, driving
toward a foreign sky? How not to mind the end
they'll come to. Imaging the garden underground,
where gingko and ailanthus grub cement rubble.
They tunnel slag for foothold. Wring crumbs of rot
for water. Of shadows, seeds foresung as Tree
of Heaven and Silver Apricot in ancient Mandarin,
their roots tangle now with plum and weeping willow,
their branches mingling with tamarack and oak.
I love how nothing in these furrows grows unsnarled,
nothing stays unscathed. How last year's fallen stalks,
withered to pith, cleave to this year's crocus bulbs,
each infant knot burred with bits of garbage and tar.
Fist to fist with tulips, glads, selving and unselving
daffodils, they work their metamorphoses in loam
pocked with rust-flints, splinters of rodent-skull—
a ground so mixed, so various that everything's born
of what it is not. Who wouldn't want to flower
like this? Look how strangely they become
themselves, this gnarl of azaleas and roses-of-Sharon,
native to both countries, blooming here as if drunk
with blossoming. Green buds suck and bulge.
Stem-nubs thicken. Sepals swell and crack their cauls.
Lately, every time I walk down this street and peer
through the fence, I'm surprised by something new.
Yesterday hydrangea and chrysanthemums burst
their calyxes, corolla-skins blistering into welts.
Today jonquils slit blue shoots from their sheaths.
Tomorrow daylilies and wild-asters will flame petals,
each incandescent color unlike: indigo, blood, ice,
coral, fire-gold, violet the hue of shaman's robes—
every flower with its unique glint and slant, faithful
to each particular. Each one lit by what it neighbors
but is not, each tint flaring without a human soul,
without human rage at its passing. In the summer
there will be scallions, mung-beans, black sesame,
muskmelons, to be harvested into zinc buckets
and sold at market. How do they live without wanting
to live forever? Unlike their gardeners in the old world,
who die for warring dreams and warring heavens,
who stop at nothing, life the one paradise they wanted.
Monologue for an Onion
I do not mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not stopped you
From peeling away my flesh, layer by layer.
The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, ripped veils, all the debris of pursuit.
Poor deluded human: you seek my heart.
Things have no hearts. Within each skin of mine
Lies another skin: I am pure onion—pure union
Of outside and in, surface and secret core.
Look at you, cutting and weeping. Idiot.
Is this the way you move through life, your mind
A questing knife, driven by your fantasy of truth.
Of lasting union—slashing away skin after skin
From things, ruin and tears your only signs
Of progress? Enough is enough.
You must not grieve that the world is glimpsed
Through veils. How else should it be seen?
How will you strip away the veil of the eye, the veil
That you are, you who want to grasp the heart
Of things, who long to know where meaning
Lies. Smell what you hold in your hands: onion juice.
Gashed peels, my stinging shreds. You are the one
In pieces. Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to
You changed yourself: you are not who you are.
Your soul severed moment to moment by a blade
Of fresh desire, the floor strewn with abandoned skins,
And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is
Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart,
Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love,
A heart that will one day beat you to death.