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On a Desert Highway

The shaman wore long white sleeves rippling &
Minuscule in the bone-dry distance.
I jerked & righted the wheel
Plying invisible waves of hot sea
Always a moment just before the immediate future.

These warped slurs of air made of decades, centuries, a few
Seconds, who knows how speed/time/thermodynamics work when you’re
seated in air-
Conditioned comfort.
In my reverie, soon I forgot
I should have crashed into the first shining spirit hours before.
The mind itself a wobbly mirage on an endless road laid out before you.
Past midnight,
Momentarily dozing at seventy-nine miles per hour,
A second shaman’s white
Sleeves fluttered far ahead in the headlights, this one
Scattering yellow tulips from a basket like cake frosting on the fillet of asphalt.
A third wearing red
Scallop shells of grief
Still favors my raw primary years in sleep—
Always asking hoarsely for a new face to wear to parties, church, shopping
malls, funerals.

Whatever age I am right now,
Whatever degree of luminosity
In a dream or memory I have not yet had,
Let me say:
I will always acknowledge & race toward your shipwrecked souls—

Far beyond the blood vessels behind my lids,
Past even those frightening cacti of a million cochleas,
Swooshed into that amniotic zone
Where once we all soared, naked & glowing.

 

 

Passages

Ten thousand gods in the fields midblossom.
Overhead screeches a finned metal giant slithering
Its fast shadow over concrete straight through us like a bar-code scanner.

Illumined on a checkpoint screen, I watch a
Winged fetus in ultrasound. But it’s only purple-
Striped socks, a hair dryer, six wallpaper samples.

Midmorning, daylight saving has a few confused.
Others smile or frown into the little black pools of their phones.
Palms and pink silk flowers along the moving concourse stand artificially
at ease.

Midflight, dozing and dreaming, a pagan
Dance foregrounds a molten harvest moon
While evil trots a racehorse, combing its hair.

Antelopes plant plum trees with a hooked Bronze Age tool.
Come autumn, we won’t ever arrive at the lighthouse.
Of course, we do finally scrape ashore. All winter

A dense figure on a trampoline flashes gang signs
By the village’s bustling well. Near dead,
The fresh pulp of a far sawmill suddenly awakens my blind

Grandfather and four-year-old father,
Midforest, midblizzard. For a long time
After the plane lands and deboards

Nothing memorable happens.


“On a Desert Highway” and “Passages” are used by permission from Mitochondrial Night (Coffee House Press, 2019). Copyright © 2019 by Ed Bok Lee.

Ed Bok Lee is the author of Whorled (Coffee House Press) and a recipient of a 2012 American Book Award and the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry. Lee is the son of North and South Korean emigrants—his mother originally a refugee from what is now North Korea; his father was raised during the Japanese colonial period and Korean War in what is now South Korea. Lee grew up in South Korea, North Dakota, and Minnesota, and was educated there and on both U.S. coasts, Russia, South Korea, and Kazakhstan. He teaches at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Other honors include the Asian American Literary Award (Members’ Choice Award) and a PEN Open Book Award.

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