Featured Poetry

THE ISLAND

By Allen Jones

 

Night falls, walking in the market place

probably about four. The street still wet

from women washing down their stalls.

Everything covered with tarps and ties

and string. The wind soft and swaying,

a distant tinkling of things. Heels click

and scrape on the pavement like a horse,

this memory I’ve never seen before.

 

Arirang, arirang, arario…

 

In the harbor below the falls, squid

boats creak and sway, out on the horizon

fishermen pulling up their nets, marking

the world’s end with white lamps.

Just west of the sea wall the rocks take

strange forms. Some flow like water,

skin like the moon, others are monoliths

perfectly square, and one, a child,

playing with her hair. Across the crush

of rattling shore, a high sound echoes

and is returned. Women dive for abalone,

speaking with dolphin tongues, hands

strong as iron hooks. Twenty floating

whicker baskets slowly fill with shell.

 

Arirang, arirang, arario…

 

The cliffs are cut by empty caves of war,

half-filled with smooth skipping stones.

A hundred feet offshore, a single finger

rises from the surf. A lover died here,

this metamorphic tower marks the place.

Your father and mother, somewhere

on the shore, but you’re not home.

 

Arirang, arirang, arario…

 

Night falls on drummers dressed in white,

yellow, red, and green streamers attached

to hinged poles on their heads. Rising up

on pointed slippers in unison, they rock

and bow, tossing their colored headdresses

twenty feet in perfect arcs. Three becomes

five, then nine, and the rhythm stretches

toward the infinite that is also one.

 

Arirang, arirang, arario…

 

Darkness downtown is synthesized music

thumping beneath flourescent lights, smoke

of searing pork, scent of red pepper soup,

blasts of steam from fresh dumplings.

Women giggling in pairs, skitter flat-footed

through dark alleys, flitting from one bright

room to another, dangerous as mermaids,

light as air, their favor neither bought  

nor sold, but still a livelihood, constantly

coming and going, promising more

until business men lie down drunk

in the street in their silk suits and weep.

 

Arirang, arirang, arario…

 

The mountain road is paved in pine,

walled by basalt, a wall of craters and air,

stacked against the wind by tangerine men

who each day machete back the jungle

as it wraps around fields, barns, and houses

pulling on the legs of the stone grandfathers,

this writhing mass of brush, barb, and leaf,

parting only for the ancestor’s mounded grave,

scissor-cut grass guarded by interlocking

evergreens filled with black hook-nosed birds,

squawking as if death could be called back.

 

Arirang, arirang, arario…

 

The sun rises on a poor family’s house,

walls built of black brush strokes, rooms

scented by the tea leaves of emperors,

fingers stained with hand-ground ink,

daily practice slowly moving silks,

a meditation passed from body to body

through war, across famine, under

oppression, a ceremony undoing eternity

to the sound of a piercing reed, a song

everyone knows but no one can explain:

 

Arirang, arirang, arario…

 

Someday we will return to the women

of the sea, the marketplace, the volcano,

the star-filled trees. We will find shadows

filled with obsidian, graves overgrown,

women bent and clawed, children gone.

We will open our mouths as if to speak,

move as if swimming against a dream,

or remembering some forgotten dance,

and only half believing, we will sing:

 

Arirang, arirang, arario…

 

 

HeadShotLong ago, Allen spent a year on Jeju island. One afternoon, trying ludicrously to hike the entire coast, he heard what seemed birdcalls out in the surf. He turned to see Henya surfacing and signaling their safety to each other. It was otherworldly. He is presently a literature professor in Norway.

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