by Gord Sellar
The cheapest, most neglected, run-down minds of a generation, wasting in self-imposed gulag stupors of vegetable lonelinesses,
I have seen them, hunched at barstools, art bodies, atonal heads, detuned claws and fangs at the glasses of cheap and tasteless draft beer, hopeless homeless pints of bellied whateverness,
Drunk banshees with hollow colored teeth dancing in their mouths, their furious, fullempty mouths with tiny lips, with mouths as wide as a broken thought, their Western tongues heavy with the spit of words and histories they cannot spell, and read never never,
screaming drunk banshees, these, flat and brutal banshees, singing siren ghosts shrieking whitefaced into the brutal night starless, light-polluted, neon Taehakno nights,
plotting pogroms and useless social reforms, drafting anonymous bloggers’ blood-libels against the GIs, whispering made-up secrets of fur and lips and whispers in cheap one-hour hotel rooms north of Jongno.
I have seen them memorizing strange words in strange books, and leaving both books and bodies together seated at the tables of ancient cafes, cafes that smelled of java, of lonely girls’ gently turning hips, and the acrid sweat of foreign bodies in the cushions,
with the sound of Bach pushed into campy jazz and spinning, orbiting a dizzy star,
with ghosts in the road, ghosts with their hands inside their bodies, reaching, reaching, scraping for something that wasn’t there, not even in the shopping mall that Xmas in Oshawa, Ontario, not even with his hands on the bronze bar in his local pub in Liverpool or the small lonely rented room in Montgomery,
they go out, stalking the cracked cement where there have never been sidewalks, mouths heavy with strange new words, kee-awk hadda, cho-ah hadda, mouths watering from the flavour of these words nobody will hear or care for,
well-frogs caught in their throats, and nothing will wash it away, the conundrum, the distant clothing clotted into their pores, stinging their bodies as they trudge through the late whiskey morning Monday awakening sunrise, fingers touching chalkboard, the flavour of lemon soju still in their hair and laps,
I have glimpsed them in their desperate secret midnight blacknesses of boots tromping and amarch up the down streets, down silent the everything streets,
coughing, coughing, endlessly coughing out things that sound almost like words, like useless rungs on someone else’s ladder to nowhere, and tromping still, in formations
nobody could ever calculate, random, perfect, dust-dreamed hazes of blue and greenish eyes, broken trumpets singing fratboy anthems, memories of Ayn Rand and Erich von Däniken,
memories of football games, imagined touchdowns, cheerleaders who would not sleep with a benchwarmer, and drunken nights passing like trains going somewhere else, missed trains tattooed into the neon-haloed night of the airport bus,
tromping, their boots endless, wandering boots, with names mother-stenciled into the inner seams of their wonderings, the laces bound and cutting off their hope,
burning holes in their mouths with the places the ladders will never lead.
They spin through the moksha night, trying to stop, trying to reach, nails dragged across the inner chalkboard world,
their mouths tiny, pinhole mouths screaming, frothing a haze of Hite and silly words,
pet theories, woodshed intelligences declaring about socioeconomic development and tall tales of scoring native tail in the toilets of some divey bar, so sad they have always been to see the world not watching them,
these losers, these refugees from the grownup world, these tax refugees, these refugees from beatings and shattered loves, these refugees from the idiocies of the west, from the sanities and inanities,
these raging stalkers, these drunkard hopeless dreamers, salivating at the far deep drowning end of civilization in their own private bathroom, in their little drowsy classrooms, in front of the computer,
these gutless lovers, these perverts depraved, footless and eyeless in dust,
crawled into shadow, where comely hands and comely eyes look less askance, struck by green, by blue, as if eyes were souls, as if irises were the breath of heaven’s touching memory,
they have been marching, these footless beasts, these drunken taciturn frat boys, these freaks and virgin losers,
these middle-aged drunks, beautiful in their obesity, obscene with helpless chewing worry almost hidden, their thirsty fear, and there is no balm for these crazed, bearded old monsters dying in the roadways, in the dirty little one-rooms with sticker-covered fridges humming the music of space and of gods forgotten and abandoned by man, by manshin, ten thousand voices in the corner of a dirty one-room singing exorcisms and all of them fail for the bottle is there, beside the fridge, in the morning,
these nearly-middle-aged women, bodies shaped like abandoned hopes, en forme d’un poire, like Satie’s vengeful joke on the lips of what were womanish, once maybe everything jealous female bodies, who cry out to Jesus because someone, someone must care, and their lonely, pairless tongues singly cry out, and speaking in ecstatic mediocre glossolalia
these young blond women, grinding their volatile bodies along the scratched and absolute wooden bar, hoping someone will forget their tab, lusting for green eyes to turn to them first, and not the enviable slender Korean chick in the miniskirt, raging at the pale men, the bastard thug men, all of them thugs who do not talk, do not look, do not care about a white girl in Busan, in Kwangju, in Kongju, and rage, rant, make Web sites and rail at Western men, alone in the pit of despair, screaming why won’t you love me instead, you worthless shit asshole bastard fucker?,
these hopeless blondes sojourning from the whale-earth freedoms, wandering in the luckless night, watching banshee men with envy, is there a place for me, my suffering as well? is there a nothing place for me, they wonder, and in their black Canadian army boots they thud along, they chant, they all march too.
That is what they do, the sad trumpets declaim.
The banners swish and swirl, maple-leaved and starrystriped and unionjacked and otherwise.
They tromp and tromp, until they run out of pub, out of late-night endless abandoned hi-rise street.
They wriggle their fingers, their staticky, mangled fingers, running their fingers through their tongues to feel the simple words encrusted against the taste buds,
and try to sing a song nobody has heard before, the melody that every drunk knows,
every dope-fiend loser, every broken-hearted fool, every woman and man who cannot buy clothes that fit,
who hungers for something that isn’t colored red, who hungers for the smell of different air than this,
who cannot go home.
these people who will never be remembered, never their pathetic souls immortalized in hundred-foot-tall bronze, never praised in textbooks,
they are a single teeming footnote, like Chinese railway workers in Canada, or building roads in Malawi, with their Red Book of The Sayings of Chairman Mao tucked into their back pockets, but more ridiculous, less crucial, with not track across the land to bear their mark, for nobody can drive a car on English grammar, or spelling tests,
no romantic graves by the ocean bearing sailor’s odes to the years they are decanting into the ground,
No empire of fury. No empire of relief. No empire of children born. Of the Korean girls they fall for and never had a chance with, or the ones who fall for them, who marry them, comes only ash. No empire. A blond child, at most two or maybe three pale little pups with Canadian passports, American citizens who grow up speaking Korean. A little smear of so-what mixed-up blood. No empire full of faces yet unseen.
No sea change of the mind. Forgotten chalky handprints on a blackboard, or black fingerprints smudged upon a whiteboard. A ton of paperwork no historian will read. Forgotten barroom sociology, theories erased by the breath of the sun in turning, again, again, again, again, again, again.
No records. The bar tabs will not survive. The markered graffiti in the endless toilets of seething foreigner-bars. The burning handprints on the dangling handles steadying these souls as they ride the dusty night through the belly of this city in a world. Almost the only one. Garbage miners, one day, will find the cards of millions – the Alien Registration Card Crapmine, millions of grease-fingered cards discarded at once, filigreed in hopelessness, the day English suddenly happily stopped mattering anymore. What’s this? they’ll ask, marveling at the rotund cheeks, brushing mud and sludge from the distant, lost faces. Why’d we bring people like that here? they’ll ask. Ten years? they’ll say, How can it be? What kept these monkeys here?
No Empire can exist without leaving its mark. But these transients, what glorious trashpiles will they accumulate, in what bog will they leave their queens, their metis children, princes and princesses? What annals will speak of these outsiders, in what court?
Will the mist of the wetlands near ancient Incheon belch up the someday long-dead bones and mummies of these young men, and occasional young women, their ghostly-voiced bonelessness, to upset history’s eyes and eyes and dreaming heart? Will anyone care?
Raise a cup to the holy, absolute mythic wandering losers. Sing a song, singe your beard (either one) with the fire of pathos, pathetic they are, pathetic they have been, pathetic everything all and at once together will be undone. The multitude of fat white worms that have been their earnest, tireless fingers and pricks, seeking homelands where they could burrow down; their voices, like light against the polished everlasting something mirrors, never clashing or thudding to rest, never becoming more than a funhouse deception, a poor reflection of a much wider thing.
Raise a cup to the wondrous, indefatigable twits. The addicts to things and to doings, the eaters of words and the servants of bibliophages, zombies of christ and of jack daniels. Drink to them, for they are a different kind. They are not us, we know, we are certain. We are doing something. Every something thing, shimmering and resiliently verbal, crumbles into adjective, and then across a lower panoply of tenses down against the hard ground of not. Naught, it is the everything allness inside the things we do, the everything anything things that make us not-them.
We have not surrendered. We dig up holes in the muck near Incheon, casting in CD-ROMS and cigarette butts and poems to lovers who are not flag-colored, not passport-written, not words or honored things but people, living, spitting, coughing, angry and tired and blessed. We look up from our muck-holes, our premature graves filled with things that we outsiders love, our words, our silly songs, pictures of shoes on the subway, arguments thick in the throat and dripping with care. We look out into the grey, the choppy sea, the stir and waves and search for white arms, maybe two, or four, today, tearing, desperate. Paddling for land, for life. The other hands, beneath the beer-dark waves, grope and grasp, and snatch the ankles of those desperate, suddenly-living few.
Nets, into the water, ropes. But we never can pull long enough. If he would live, he must swim for land. He must kick the hands back down into the deeps. The beery hands, the beefy white fingers clutching. Her rosary-burnt hands, clutching her Costco card, her fingers scarred with its edges. Once in a while, one kicks so hard that the feet join, and in a flicker, scaly rippling, and the eyes are wide, gills straining, this one suddenly like the fish beneath the temple bell, eyes open, struggling for the land, to cast itself upon it, breathe at least a breath or two, before it sinks into the drunken, sodden, wastrel depths.
We watch, we only pause digging for a while, to see if this one makes it, today. We know. It matters, but not in the way the struggling drunkard boys and chistomaniac girls and old, wrinkle-bellied fishmen think.
We know, we think it as we drink to these losers and their desperate something hearts and flashing whatever eyes. We are all everyone disappeared invisible hungry songless ghosts waiting to become
– Bangkok/Vientaine, January 2008
“Groan” was first published (in slightly different form) in Scott Burgeson’s chapbook Outlanders in 2008. If you don’t get the joke, either you have never lived among expatriates in Korea, or you’ve never seen this poem.
February 2, 2012