the fire festival
men cook muricidae in their shells, on oak
wood fires at the entrance to the marquee
i can hear the small slugs of meat hiss like slow punctures
—the scent of the wood turns my nose inside out.
the residents of Hallim-eup get a coupon each
for a free lunch—no one checks I.D. cards.
the marquee is a thrumming hive— everyone fed
: the female volunteers scoot table to table
like diagrams explaining how to button up a coat
(you’d swear they had 3 lungs, 2 hearts)
delivering bowls of hot bone soup, anchovy noodles
or the popular steamed pork farmed locally
& cooked whole in the back— the ample flesh falls
off bone like parapraxes. thick whorls of steam
scrunch up in afterthoughts from bubbling pans
which saturate the tent with warm & smell.
from clinked bowls of makkoli or soju glasses
puddles form & shirt cuffs quickly mop them up.
everyone’s waiting for 새별오름 to be set ablaze
& beacon the renewal of the dead grass dry as grit.
i didn’t wait around: they are easy in their skin
who are content with the sun.
Note: 새별오름 (Saebyeol Oreum): Oreum, are hills dotted all over Jeju. They are beautiful places to hike. The name means 3 stars. The Oreum were created at a time when Hallasan was a volcano, what i like to think of the physical eructations of the mountains past: a burp frozen in time.
Friday Night in Hallim
i— the drunk labour(ers) of Friday night
this dark coastal wind is fattened
on the untapped lust of bachelors
gruffly drunken in the hub of their cell phones
or plastering their hands to their pendulous heads
cowering from themselves like a nom de plume
under a pharmacy awning at only just gone 10 O’clock.
right now, they nail their hangovers
like fresh kills, on the neon crosses spread evenly
across Hallim town
to be at hand in times of crisis
& jibe the dark.
did they ever believe gravity could place so much pressure on them?
did they know early on they’d turn out like this…?
ii—questions they need never ask
the question how has it come to this?
seems uniquely Western to me now
: these men would never pose such a question
to themselves or each other: they just did & they just are.
drinking is not so much the tonic for coping
so much as something to do & wake from
& move beyond until the next drink is put before them.
never any need for dense reflection on the will
to change the circumstance from which the will arises.
& why change, why limit themselves
to the dull penalty of sobriety?
iii— my own reasons
it just might be, i’m hiding in plain sight
to pull-the-wool over the last 2 nights’ bad dreams.
i’m not dismissing it as a failure to face up to them.
i dreamt of a woman last night, one of those
Instagram moms with a perfect life.
her teeth, nose, lips, torso, tits & toes, perfect.
even pregnant her body could make men weep.
she played piano in the village square
& the sun made everything photogenic
as if her life was stalked by a Hefe filter.
this perfect woman’s infidelity destroyed her life
even though the man she cheated with was a nemo
compared to her perfect husband.
at the close of the dream i arrived in her village
which had become an empty ruin
as if a plague of locusts swept through.
the filter gone, her children hollow & emaciate
in a separate room— she sat in the living room
her expression scrunched & void
searching a distance only she could see
her hair matted in argentine furrows.
the broken window opened to the dangers of the sea
clouded over & tossing, agitatedly spewing up creatures.
a horrific, sedentary sea monster leeched to the back wall
leaving her barely enough room to curl foetal
a sort of abalone, giant squid hybrid, its gaping
purple mouth like an ocean swell churning up machinery.
its slow breaths gave the illusion of gyrating
like the stern wheel of a steam boat.
feeling somehow responsible, i awoke.
the Mandarin ducks of Cheonjiyeon waterfall
tail feathers like a pair of rusty scissors, bill
borrowed from a bird of paradise’s Feng-shui petals
a thin black calyx fastening a head of smiling child
—it motors the pool, black as treacle, below street level
Cheonjiyeon carved with the tongue of a serpent
over millennia, we can read the workload of in depth & granite.
for ₩1000 at leisure admire cowled Mandarin ducks
courting their lover’s death till them part
in showy affections & interpretive dance all feather & flap
scratch moss & algae clean off rocks, splash their hoods
& act as torchlight down the dingy passage to Cheonjiyeon
waterfall— something to do with heaven.
in a Korean wedding ceremony mallards
are symbolic of long life together, carved from wood
they are the mark of attainment for a bride & groom.
my mom & dad were gifted ours & they guard
each other, nuzzling beaks, shaped like yin & yang
on our mantelpiece above the gas fire in our living room.
odd how i still feel less affinity with water birds
but when i heard about the eels in the lower
reaches 10foot below the black pond where the light
is threadbare like a bulb blocked with coal & air
ungraspable, where thought trims to empty certainties
—the only striving down there is for light air & thought.
as a kid my dad took me to a pond full of mallards
where we’d take our stale loaves & launch
torn chunks at the ducks who’d flock for lunch
like tourists to a packed out restaurant— we’d do our utmost
to share the loaves out equally to the 5000 ducks
that were to be so dominant a motif in my anecdotes.
last time me n’ dad visited the pond in my late 20s
it was a despondent sight : the nanny state blocked
off the dank pool whittled like a refugee’s
waistline. most of the ducks buggered off to more
fertile pools abundant in arthropods. you couldn’t find
a single webbed foot printed on the muddy bank.
the warts n’ all hagiography of Master-nim II
we lived for shy a year in that makeshift
room, which we now use for washing laundry
a place for the soft aromas mingled with warmth.
then it was windowless, all hard surfaces, damp & cold
just a botched lump of ply patched on the front
of a what-will-be that leaked
—because we’d yet to concrete & mortar—
when the rain lashed us for crimes against ourselves
our first discovery of this was when
water pooled around us as we dreamt
taking part in our dream— a psycho-manifestation.
to use the toilet was toil itself
: we had to go outside & all the way
round the corner of the building, on a scaffold
only the track of the moon for a guide.
after that we had to walk through solid dark
the obstacle course of a building site
—dragging our feet to lightly catch obstructions
we’d promptly dropped clutching our stomachs
anxious for a feed & alcohol to forget our aches, arms out
in front to feel for the steel supports securing the boards above
—to a toilet we fitted, just to take a shit or cold shower.
i washed once a week, slept in my own filth mostly
pissed puddles outside
—Master went to the bath house
in Hallim town sometimes.
he withstood all my wife’s pecuniary hysteria
all my complaining at the start about
my muscle aches like a building demolition
i felt more like a collapsed box
—he just told her: sister…
i’ll stay till the end, don’t worry.
—looking back, i think we both thought
he’d up & leave
but Master never complained
a few tins of beer, some decent nosh
the freedom to choose to be there with us
the challenge of being the one man show
to have the will tested by hard conditions
& to thrive, that’s the crux of it, thriving against the odds
: i think i now know why
i found him sleeping in
the laundry room that night…
The Black Shore Rubbish Disposal of Paradise
i walk the bow spat sprig of land at least
three times a week or more : i can release
the dog there as i know she will not leap
in the sea & no one usually walks that shore
—most find the chainsaw wind too much meither
perhaps the perils of the black rock
taunts them with an abstract of ill luck.
i see the same jettisoned garbage
—the tide comes in & drags it with, then dredges
it all to the same nooks in new arrangements.
the sodden lengths of rope— like offal
& umbilical cords—ties the 100 year cactus
fronds shaped like bunny ears, bulbs of purple fruits
like bruised elbows covered in microscopic needles.
slowly the sea chews chunks of rock
it will eat all this coast one day, i reckon.
medicine bottles prescribe dust & last
autumn’s foliage— dry grass moustaches
grow out of anorexic gaps. a dead gull, fish
hook jammed into its wing— slow death, eye
popped out like an oyster. fish spine
—the bleached skull of an animal i can’t
confirm— buoys stranded waiting for the tide
barnacles stud them— resemble lizards.
bouquets of hardy red plants hucking salt
ash from a fire Haenyo made hemmed by peel
& a collection of shells, makeshift chopping board
the sea sanded smooth for them. rusty aerosols
& broken baskets. a pregnancy test for the sea
which surely never comes back negative
—only open burial, the galloping of decay
by tides i’ve yet to schedule— the dig of wind in oily
feathers flesh & bone—would that i’d grieve?
i realize it’s all part of some abstruse plan
so why must i remind myself so often?
return to Biyang island—for Jon
i guided you to the lighthouse at Biyang-do
so we could share a view of the sea that all must cross
& coerce a pine to change itself into a canoe.
the fecal talismans the little black goats make
were clues we should have gathered as we walked
: if burned like Nachiketas, we’d have had our pick of canoes.
the telescope still points at Inn Jeju
the little dog followed me around again & asked for you.
it is as if the island never moved an inch through time.
i found some sandals in the crumpet scoria
& waded out to the cave the black sea birds guard
—none of the stories we conjectured are true
the hollow is empty except for shadows & salt stains.
the mermaids looked plucky as gulls when i saw them
foraging in slithers of platinum dumped by the sun
—though i came so close my feet got wet
i never took a photograph, like we agreed..
daniel is an English fella living on Jeju Island. he has lived in Korea long enough to have gone native, somewhat. When he isn’t working to keep the guesthouse he built ticking over, he tries his hand at photography, cooks Korean food & lots of tagines & has to walk places with his hound Boreum (Bright Moon) so that poems appear to him. Though Tim probably has the best he’s got here, if you want to read more you can go to danielpaulmarshall.com. daniel has been published at PoetHead, The Poetry Shed, FourTiesLitReview, O at the Edges, thefridayinfluence, Contemporary Haibun Online & has a few poems forthcoming in Summer with The High Window.