Cathy Park Hong

 

Aubade

Sonnet

Year of the Pig

Gift

 

 

 

 

 

Introduction by Arda Collins

 

 

He said, When I die, I want you to wear that smell

so that the smell will explode with the memories of our time

together.

 

I blushed at his sentimentality,

 

Cathy Hong says in her poem “Gift.”  Hong has an epic imagination, as we know from her collection Dance Dance Revolution, and which is evident in the selection of poems that follows.  The speaking in these lines in particular is expressive of the larger movement in her work.  For Hong, as objects, culture, language, systems of belief—the transhistorical totality of civilization—enter the world of her perceptions, time is sensory and the components of “our time” are distilled and released with the intensity of fragrance; the sensory world of knowledge and emotion as it exists in the form of an individual imagination is a perfume.  In this idea there is beauty and romance, and what is emotionally and conceptually spanned in the lines, “. . . explode with the memories of our time/together” is expressive of the elegance in what these poems do in and with our world.  For Hong, civilization and the space-time continuum can accommodate room to register each one of us intimately and specifically, as well as absorb our private imaginations as we dissipate.

 

The speaking and form of address in these poems are somewhere between a letter and a song, expressed to a person called Brother, and another called Sister.  This evokes a cross between a state-mandated or ideological relationship and familial one, as in “Year of the Pig“:  “Brother, we tried him & decided he was guilty,” and

 

do you know your laughter carries isself to our lornsome hills

& flushes my ears when I feed

Ma her broth?

 

Can I join you, Brother? Do you have room for me?

 

These poems, and the repetition of the address, also recall the blues, as in “Sonnet.”  “We were promised Shangdu would draw women, Brother,” the speaker laments.  It ends,

 

A pang shudders this boomtown’s bunioned organ, Brother,

under this shipwreck of unsnipped mastiffs, Brother,

& that missionary drest in robe over dungarees comes, Brother,

& woos me like a persistent lover woos, Brother.

I tell him I have no need for fraudulent heavens, Brother

But still I fall into his arms, Brother.

 

There is intense emotion in these poems, but for Hong and for her speaker, its origins are not in sentimentality.  Nevertheless, as it is expressed in “Gift,” blushing points to the most tender and vulnerable range of human responses, but for Hong that range involves engagement with emotional contradictions, and there are often moments in which the speaker is conflicted, as in the end of “Sonnet.”

 

While there is a formal or classical element to these poems, their relationship to the epic recalls Joyce’s idea of it.  At the level of language, and in its sense of invention, Hong’s work, like Ulysses, reveals her private interpretation of the world, which is both comic and grave.  As in Joyce, the individual’s private experience of the world becomes a legitimate historical one; though most of us are not historians or archeologists, we all must imagine the world in order to live in it. The mastiff of course is the dog of the Romans, and the shipwreck recalls everything from Homer to Oppen.  This is not to say that this is or is not Hong’s intention, only to say that in the realm of her perception, all of the available components of time are in play.

 

“Of course the archeologist is much, much too old for me,” the speaker in “Gift” tells Sister.  Civilization, god, time, the earth, the ocean, are much, much too old for most of us, but we must still live in the world of our emotions, of objects, and our projections of ourselves—“DVD players/in every variation & also, DVDs of every genre (Westerns,/Pixar films & Sister, they had all yr favorite Truffaut/films for a cut rate price)—.”  But the archeologist is intimate and affectionate, “carving the most exquisite miniature men/ & gifting them to me.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aubade

 

I long for harmine morn to lift me

from my rank hisshurled life but my

hellwhelmed county of harsh scruffed

crops is marooned, my plow a beached

whale’s browbone on morose miles of moor.

Heft heft. I cry to my ox

but no hint of green wort.  Just midges

to torment my ox. You intone

forego lament, willingly forfeit the ai-ai.

so I slaughter my ox.  So hi-hi!

I am ready in my plaidwhelmed

puff puff golf hat. Ready to be

whelmed by a petstore cacophony

of crickets shirruping in their cage balls,

Juddering slam of hammering jack,

humming sussurations of catamarans,

aerosol striations of welder’s firecrack,

then a caracas of fist cracks

after workers slurp off their goggled specs

to a bassooning fog horn hooning

so spooning lovers know when to return

to their dawn shift, tuning cymbals

for toy baboons who clap clap,

Hail the Industrial Age, hail!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Sonnet

 

We wince & sing wielding steel, Brother,

Days we pound with our sledgehammers, Brother,

Nights we hoist up another shop, another dialect, Brother.

We were promised Shangdu would draw women, Brother,

But it’s just we who throng & throng, only Brothers

throng so I demanded quittance, only to find, Brother,

a courthouse still being hoisted by a human spine of Brothers

squatting one on top the other, chanting join us, Brother!

A pang shudders under this boomtown’s bunioned organ, Brother,

under this shipwreck of unsnipped mastiffs, Brother,

& that missionary drest in robe over dungarees comes, Brother,

& woos me like a persistent lover woos, Brother.

I tell him I have no need for fraudulent heavens, Brother

But still, I fall into his arms, Brother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Year of the Pig

 

8.1

Brother, we were thralled by massif dead pigs floating

downriver     we hauled  butchered   feasted

then squalled for it was rotted meat. 

Feeblest of bipeds we were but monks prayed for us,  

cured us of our rankled bodies.

Now the new observatory’s been ransacked for its myths,

the telescope       shattered to a million bifocals

the furrier uses em now to sew tiny rabbit mitts

w’hayseed beads for forcep babes

of the landlord foe.

 

 

10.1

We found out who it was: during hellswelt summer, his pigs

turned spotted & keeled over all at once  

the ground was already cramped with the buried,

       so his limp daughter & he threw the loadsome rotted crits

       into the river

       & the river slewed them down to us.

 

Brother, we tried him & decided he was guilty.

 

                       

11.1

Years turning worse since you’ve left,

allow me to give you my rundown:

 

year of the rat:  10 yields of sorghum.  

year of the dragon: 10 yields of sorghum.

year of the dog:  1 yield of sorghum.

 

year of the monkey:  a drought. A lowland huckster arose

& told us our idle highland’s perfect for his eye to all the stars,

an observatory that will attract pilgrims from afar. 

We will all profiteer.    Like fools, we sell.

 

year of the snake:  a  fraud telescope that shewed

not the promised swirling world of million distant suns

We line to look & see nothing but the flat hazen sky

We always see when we strike our loam.

 

 

10.15

I am covetous of you & curse our birth order, 

I long for lightspeed Shangdu.

Brother, imagine me. 

 

I till & till our slender plot from daybreak to cinder dusk.  

When you write about the four hundred string lights,

You & your new wife hurting w’laughter

on a paddleboat

 

do you know your laughter carries isself to our lornsome hills

& flushes my ears when I feed

Ma her broth?

 

Can I join you, Brother? Do you have room for me?

 

 

4.5

 

Ma has passed   the village gathered & wailed with trumpet lungs,

while I daydreamed of leaving these parched shriven hills,

traveling far into the mirror cast of Shangdu’s

pindle lights,

 

Then that melon bellied landlord a genius

for making tithes, skulked by & tithed me, tithed the grievers,

who quickly scrambled to escape the tithe,

 

tithed our Ma for the burial. 

Even the dead don’t escape the tithe.

 

 

5.5

 

year of the pig:  at last the rain has come

for days it slews & so the green, the mossclung trees,

& teastained dotted moths.

 

I’ve tilled the bit of unsold land.

I’ve tilled & tilled & done what I’ve been told.

Brother, I’ve tilled & tilled & always done,

I’ve always done what I’ve been told.

 

Brother, why have you not written?

Brother, can I join you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Gift

 

Sister, you will not approve but my lover

is the last surviving, mannerly-hearted archaeologist.  

 

It began when he kindly gave me a tour 

of his home & unrolled a ball of gold-crushed-sash to shew

me the rarest-of-all artifact:

 

a narwal’s horn, carved with a battle scene of 400 men on horseback.

The relief’s details so delicately whorled & fretted,

I could detect the scale on every blood-stained armor,

The blood’s gush of every scimitar’s gash,

the teeth on each neighing, reeling horse &

even the vessels on a driven warrior’s eyes.

 

He said Once Shangdu was a city of Craftsmanship,

They bartered Carvings & they bartered Ink whose properties were proven

to be fatal, he said, when scholars were punished

& forced to drink them straight. 

 

 

*

 

Together, We wander the open-air market.

They hock outdated tracts as nostalgic curios:

The People’s Creed, The People’s Deeds, The People’s Needs.

 

Other than tracts & electronic gadgets--DVD players

in every variation & also, DVDs of every genre (Westerns,

Pixar films & Sister, they had all yr favorite Truffaut

films for a cut rate price)--

 

Apothecaries have set up shop, hocking ointments

Like teatree oil to ward off mosquitoes,

Ointments claimed to be made of seal blubber

to cure inflamed thyroids,  balms as natural birth control,

imported children’s Tylenol & cold medicines tha’taste

like wincing sweet cherries.

 

All quackery, the archaeologist warned me, except for the scents,

& bought me a vintage seagreen atomizer bottle with a knitted squeeze bulb. 

We were the first to import Tea Roses, he said,

& before I spritzed the rich perfume

 

He said, When I die, I want you to wear that smell

so that the smell will explode with the memories of our time

together.

 

I blushed at his sentimentality.

 

 

*

 

I shd think it a favor of you not to tell Ma of my affair 

& tell her I will come to a decision with marriage soon enough.

 

Of course, the archaeologist is much, much too old for me.

Really, I have many suitors here including

a Christian which you might think queer,

 

but these are odd times, Sister.

People are beginning to believe in gods & godheads

Churches with fattened coffers have been shut down & have

swiftly re-opened as profitable enterprises.

 

The Christian who pangs for me hands out tracts to passersby,

a tract of a different kind. He is also a craftsman,

carving the most exquisite miniature men

& gifting them to me.