Caveat: Nonnet #7 “Azar”

I’ve decided to take on the challenge I suggested to myself (with encouragement from my friend Bob) a few posts back: I will make a nonnet every day. The last few days I’ve tested, to see if it’s doable, and I have done it. So I have a little stockpile, now, of half-a-dozen nonnets. And I will move forward, and try to make a nonnet every day, and post it. I guess a side-effect of this is that I’m am, tentatively, returning to my old two-posts-a-day pattern, which I abandoned around the time of my cancer diagnosis, 3 years ago.

Counting backwards among the ones posted previously, starting with one last year, I think this would be number 7.

(Poem #32 on new numbering scheme)

Living is what we do till we die.
We take on difficult questions,
or we simply live each day.
We love that children play.
We can watch the rain.
We can see trees.
Then it ends.
It's just

– a nonnet

Caveat: Nonnet #6 “up in the trees”

Now I have made an “inverted” nonnet. I have no idea if this is a thing that’s been done before. It’s the same as a nonnet, just the other way around. Below, I drew the “blue cicada in a bottle” and originally posted it some years ago.
(Poem #31 on new numbering scheme)

up in the trees
have explained to me
without using language
that summer is not so bad,
that it passes in a moment,
that the green, breeze-blown leaves caress them.

– a reverse nonnet


picture[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Nonnet #5 “This House Opposes Summer”

One reason I like nonnets is that it’s possible to compose them entirely in my head. They are sufficiently compact and structured that I can hold the whole thing in my “working memory” as I work out each line. Thus, I can do it while walking, which is another pastime of mine that doesn’t always mix well with writing, since this latter usually requires having a keyboard or notepad in front of me.
I made this nonnet walking to work.

(Poem #30 on new numbering scheme)

I hate summer, because it's too hot.
The sun squashes me, like an ant.
The air seems thick, like asphalt.
I start missing winter.
I could stride quickly.
I could shiver.
"Ah! So cold,
like a

– a nonnet.

It’s occurred to me I could write a nonnet every day, while walking to work. Am I so ambitious?

picture[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Nonnet #4 “beans”

I wrote another nonnet. My friend Bob commented that I seem to have a “knack” for them. I don’t know about that, but I enjoy doing them – they are constrained like haiku, and the constraints are syllabic rather than metric (a type of constraint I find more difficult to “do in my head”). The haiku form, nowadays, has a bit of a cliche feel in English, which these nonnets avoid.
(Poem #29 on new numbering scheme)

Speculating about my own mind:
moments of consciousness might be
like little fragments of light;
but no, that's wrong. Instead,
like so many beans,
we toss them up;
they begin
to fall

– a nonnet
picture[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: four seasons?

A nonnet I made.
(Poem #28 on new numbering scheme)

Fifth Season
they say Korea has four seasons.
I think actually there are five:
in mid-summer, the sky hides;
and the pouring rain comes;
so I dodge rivers;
and more rain comes;
and humid,

– a nonnet
picture[daily log: walking, 2km]

Caveat: lifelong

This poem is a bit more “trite” than what I normally write. I think adding the rhyming constraint to the regular nonnet form overkills it. Anyway, it’s kind of a “throw away” effort, but in the absence of anything more interesting to post…
(Poem #27 on new numbering scheme)

footsteps striding along like a song
one hears in one's own mind, for long
seconds, only to prolong
themselves among a throng,
each wants to belong
plunging headlong
never wrong,

– a nonnet
picture[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: Just Infinite

(Poem #26 on new numbering scheme)

I didn't think the sky was so luminous
But as the night was just starting I saw
An unblackish sort of blue hanging there
Like a closing parenthesis in some
Overwrought fragment of prose, still starless.
I thought the buildings were holding it up
But if that was true it would be like glass,
Fragile and smooth, but unmoving and cold
Yet this dark sky's mood was warm and it spun
Above the buildings and trees, just infinite.

– ten lines of some kind of pentameter – not really sure what this is.
picture[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: A flash of black

(Poem #25 on new numbering scheme)

I was walking. There was a whirr of wings.
A flash of black.
A raven spun and landed in front of me.
Some years ago I was in Japan, and I saw many ravens.
So ravens make me think about Japan in the Summer.
But also, I think about death.
Aren't there some traditional cultures that associate ravens with death?
I wonder about ravens. They are scavenger birds.
Carrion-seekers. They must know about death, after all.
That's why they tilt their heads like that.
People seem to know about death, too.
We are carrion-apes who know about death.
It's a matter of ecological competence.
Is that where clever consciousness comes from?

– some kind of free verse
The picture shows some ravens (crows?) I saw at Hallasan, on Jeju Island, in February, 2011.
Stupid 138
picture[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Sunday Monday

I wrote these little poems. They are attempts at the Welsh traditional short poem form called englynion – specifically, the englyn unodl crwca, or crooked one-line englyn.
(Poem #24 on new numbering scheme)

looking now out the window,
solid gray clouds, drawn just so -
i lie down to read. let go of winter,
wishing for rain, but no.
the puddle of water shines,
the morning sun's brightness finds
streaks of mud and small cracks; signs like a map's
matching patchwork of lines.

These forms are quite restrictive, in the technical sense. I seem to prefer trying to write inside such constraints, sometimes.
picture[daily log: walking, 7km]

Caveat: Hypnagogia

(Poem #23 on new numbering scheme)

The reek of butterflies and dust woke me
from winter's complacent pessimism
and showed with grave determination
that true intentions are both made and found.
Uninteresting. I put my arm out
to touch the bookshelf behind my pillow
and unindexed archives of better sleep
unfolded into gold and copper flags.
I counted seven breaths while I focused
on disregarding things: body, pain, mind
the myriad irrelevancies of being
and that bit of twisted string, felt crouching
in that spot on the shelf where I'd seen it;
imagine it was another whole world.

picture[daily log: walking, 6.5km]

Caveat: The Vacant Lot

I was walking to work yesterday, and lo and behold, the long-lived vacant lot I go past every day was under construction. I was compelled to attempt a poem, which quickly got out of hand. I began with some metrical ambition, but I abandoned it soon enough – it’s really become just some florid prose with line-breaks, I suppose.
(Poem #22 on new numbering scheme)

An Elegy for the Vacant Lot on the Corner of Gobong-ro and Jungang-ro in Ilsan
November 2015
While mud danced beneath the bulldozer's blades
Like a partly remembered stanza by Vicente Huidobro,
Or Wallace Stevens, and workmen yelled,
I recalled when I had first come to Ilsan,
There had been a real estate office in that empty space,
I think, where garish decor extolled
The virtues of Seoul's burgeoning exurban New Cities, and
Yet pyrrhically represented only lowrise ambition,
And by shoddy construction presented
A forgettable counterexample to upward mobility, so
To see that tiny deserted square of land
Retaken by the hungry machines,
I felt a lamentation rise up inside me,
Like the regret one feels upon
Realizing that someone, who was once a friend
But is no longer a friend, has died.
Happy weeds, for many months, for many moons,
Flourished in that vacant lot I walk past
As I go to work in the afternoons
Past the corner of Gobong-ro at Jungang-ro,
Providing, for any attentive passers-by,
Compelling lessons in ecological succession, as
First grass loomed large like summer cornfields,
and then woody shrubs appeared while unhappy
Men crept out of sight among them late at night to vomit
During long, festive weekends, and finally
Trees grew tall like warriors amid the city's litter
And the buses recklessly zoomed past
Like ants bearing leaves for their queen.
So, seeing that, I felt sadness,
But then in that instant, some rain began,
Pulling down yellow and brown leaves from
The remaining trees,
Arriving gradually but as a comfort
Like an old Depeche Mode song,
Suggesting a generous ephemerality
Of the sort that autumn always brings.

Here is a picture of the lot, bulldozers a-buzzing, from across the street.

What I’m listening to right now.

Depeche Mode, “Nothing.”


Sitting target
Sitting waiting

Is full of surprises
It advertises

What am I trying to do
What am I trying to say
I’m not trying to tell you anything
You didn’t know
When you woke up today

Sitting target
Sitting praying
God is saying

Knows the prospects
Learn to expect

picture[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: Dr Hubert On The Beach at Jeres

Below is a poem I wrote recently. But its “story” is complicated. I wrote a poem with a similar title when I was in high school, in the same format: formally, a sestina, and with other (efforts at) metrical constraints. The protagonist, Dr Hubert, was the same, in the original, too – he is a character from a fictional world I had created. I suspect that in actual tone, this recent poem is more optimistic than the first version, which I long ago lost (though it still may exist in some box in my Minnesota storage unit, but obviously I don’t have the ability to find it, currently). I was more of a pessimist about humanity as a teenager than I am now, and the character Dr Hubert, in my youth’s conception, was a dystopian anti-hero. Below, on the other hand, he is more of a simple, tragic hero. Nevertheless, broadly speaking, the poem is about disillusionment. “The Collective” is a reference to the Jeres Collective, which was a failed utopian experiment within this world I’d created. I don’t think that was the original name. The similarity between the name of the collective and my own first name is purely phonological coincidence.
(Poem #21 on new numbering scheme)

Dr Hubert On The Beach at Jeres
He was lost, alone. His companions were dead.
Dr Hubert stood under Mahhalian skies.
The man's disconsolate face had turned to gray,
And the war, begun and just ended, like gold,
Seemed pointless. The billowing clouds threatened rain.
There was a ragged pine down the shore. A lie
Had started it all. It was pointless. A lie
had bloomed, flourished, been nurtured, and now was dead.
Days before, with hope and optimism, the rain
had relented and the typically wan skies
had given way to bright explosions of gold
And crimson as the sun rose. Just now, a gray
Seagull spun, landed, stepped twice, and pecked at gray
bits of sand, searching for insects, that might lie
Beneath. Dr Hubert bent and picked up a spent gold
shell-casing from the sand. Memento of dead
Fellow fighters. He turned and peered at the skies
But his memory only showed him the rain
Of bullets that hours before, before the rain
Diligently washed the sour smell of gray
Gunpowder from the cold air, had filled the skies'
Dome with pain, useless suffering and death. That lie
Had been the false utopia promised by dead
Men. Earthly paradise had been a fool's gold.
Some of the birches on the hillside had gold
leaves, which hung like saddened children as the rain
started again finally, pelting the dead
vegetation. Their white bark, damp, looked like gray
Photographs. He felt tired, now. I want to lie
down," he muttered. "The Collective filled our skies
With hope for glory. Here in Jeres those skies
Instead have been destroyed." A pale egret, gold
beak flashing, lands down the beach. "Nature can't lie
To us, though. I will take solace in the rain."
Born among angels, having fared across gray
seas, the idealist peered from among the dead.
Under Mahhalian skies, driftwood damp and dead,
On gold sands lay. Dr Hubert faced the gray
Heavens and chose to lie down in the lucid rain.

– a sestina
One calendrical observation: I am certain that I wrote the original poem on or near November 3rd, 1982. That’s because November 3rd is St Hubert’s day, which was where the character first got his name. The reason is that November 3rd is the first saints’ day after the commemoration of all the dead (All Saints), Novermber 1 and 2. That’s a bit complicated, but I was trying for some kind of obscure symbolism. The fact that I re-wrote the same poem leading up to Novermber 3rd is thus not entirely coincidence, either. Dr Hubert is an autumnal figure.
Hubert_of_texasAnother note: when I went to check on Saint Hubert (patron of mathematicians, among others, which was of keen interest to my 17-year-old self, and marginally relevant to the original conception of the Mahhalian history) at the wikipedia, just now, with the intention of placing a link, I learned that Hubertus was born in Texas. This is, no doubt, a bit of wikivandalism. But it was quite humorous – I have placed a screenshot (because wikivandalism is ephemeral) at right.
picture[daily log: walking, 6km]

Caveat: july’s weather

This poem is a nonnet that I made while walking.
(Poem #20 on new numbering scheme)

july's weather
first the streets were wet with rain and trees
were swinging, wind was taking fierce
liberties with scudding clouds
and broken umbrellas
but then the rain stopped
humid air calmed

– a nonnet
picture[daily log: walking, 6 km]

Caveat: Spring Cherryblossoms at Night

(Poem #19 on new numbering scheme)

The almost-full, white moon sighs. Riotous,
ravenous green spring writhes,
a flock of white petals flies,
to resist it seems unwise.

I poetized (poeted? poetated?) that while walking home from work. The poem more-or-less follows the pattern of the Welsh poetic forms called englynion. Specifically, it’s an englyn unodl union (according to wikipedia).
picture[daily log: walking, 5 km]

Caveat: A Morning

(Poem #18 on new numbering scheme)

A Morning
After 14 days of smog,
the sun hurled itself into
a sky purplish blue with spring.
I am not sleeping so well
there are unfulfilled novels
populating my dreams.

picture[daily log: walking, 1.5 km]

Caveat: On the subject of grace

(Poem #17 on new numbering scheme)

A Soteriology
On the subject of grace
Forty-eight years passed.
Each had a Christmas.
But they fell away.
They left a raw taste.
An empty cup waited.
There was no coffee.
Just the cream stain showed.
It made brown circles.
The dawn was coming.
So I stepped outside.
Rhythms painted my feet.
The cold earth took them.
Now, small windows burn.
The same sun returns.
Old snow reflects fire.
Later, night awaits.
Trees were desolate.
Dark gray branches forked.
Lavender clouds flew.
Magpies scolded me.
Breath took the gold sky.
The winter air curled.
The ground was frozen.
I found a brown leaf.
Someone picked it up.
We all want answers.
Nobody will say.
So give your own voice.
It's metaphysics.
Behold the universe.
Embed the subject.
The self makes the real.
Grace is an ether.
Grace is ungiven.
There is no giver.
It is yours. Take it.
- (2013-12-25).


Caveat: at the crest of jeongbal hill

(Poem #14 on new numbering scheme)

at the crest of jeongbal hill
the trail levels off among pines
i pause
no one is around (but i feel
the city's there trolling the sky
just beyond the trees and rocks)
a nearby magpie tilts her head
whooshing her blue-green tail feather
as if angry or confused
while a brown cicada's husk
falls discarded from above
the air is heavy and flat
michelle's ghost touches my cheek
i look around unsurprised
she asks if i'm not prepared
to join her (sometimes she asks
things like that or follows me
as if no time had passed since)
no, i explain, i have things
various things still to do
like a fish in a deep stream
she moves away

What I’m listening to right now

David Lanz, “Green Into Gold.” This song came around randomly on my mp3 player while I was walking home from the hospital this morning. It is from the album Christophori’s Dream, which happens to be Michelle’s “suicide music” – it was what was in the CD player when she took her pills. That’s likely why her ghost visited.

picture[daily log: walking 5 km]

Caveat: The Thing About Trees

(Poem #13 on new numbering scheme)

The thing about trees

Here’s the thing about trees: they are always trying to escape the groping gravity of the earth.

Look at them. They strain and push up toward the sky, in their slow-motion way. You can see, easily, how they are trying to escape. The leaves have no other purpose but to reach for the sky.

Sometimes, the trees even need to be tied down. You see how people have applied ropes or wooden structures to the trees, to keep them from flying away when unobserved.

You see, the  trees know when we are watching, too. They know that if they succeed in escaping, they have to be careful not to get caught – no one will trust a tree, anymore, if people see one running off into the sky.

So the trees wait until no one is looking. Trees, as might be expected, are amazingly patient.

In the depth of the night, when no one is around to see or hear, a tree will succeed in escaping. The branches will finally reach and thrust with sufficient force to pull the roots free of the grasping, jealous earth, and they will rise rapidly into space, finally finding their freedom. All that is left is a small upturned mound of earth, puckered like a small wound, where the roots pulled out.

A strong wind can help, but if the weather is too stormy, the trees can be injured and then they will fall back to the brutish earth, broken and shattered.

Sometimes, after a storm, you can see the evidence of this – broken trees thrown over, as if by wind. What is not so clear to us watchers is that some of that violence is self-inflicted by the trees upon themselves, in their desperate efforts to escape the unkind earth.

[UPDATE: This is tree # -1]

Caveat: only a moment

I have been trying to write what are called Sapphic stanzas – an originally Greek poetic form that has a long history of adaptation in English, including efforts by Hardy, Kipling and Ginsberg.

I’m not sure about the typical thematics – sapphics seem to be used for odes and narrative poetry. They are in any event considered difficult and ill-fitted to natural English rhythms, better suited to the rolling polysyllables of Greek or Latin.

Still, I think I got the metics right in this little single stanza. I like it well enough to share it, anyhow, although it’s in the category of a sketch rather than a completed work. (Poem #13 on new numbering scheme)

"A Moment."
Clouds that parse the sky with their fractal, cold hands;
Trees held captive struggling against the strong earth,
Branches dividing, air is displaced with green thrusts:
only a moment.

Something in the metrical pattern strikes me as reminiscent of Robinson Jeffers. I suppose given his background in classics, his poetry was full of such meters as these. Here are two short excerpts of his poetry, which share a theme, which is not the theme of my poem above. These are also clearly not sapphics – indeed, I didn’t really invest the energy to figure out what they might be, but regardless there’s clearly something “classical” in the metrics.

Dear God, who are the whole splendor of things and the sacred
stars, but also the cruelty and greed, the treacheries
And vileness, insanities and filth and anguish: now that this
thing comes near us again I am finding it hard
To praise you with a whole heart.
– “Contemplation of The Sword” (1938)

I have seen these ways of God: I know of no reason
For fire and change and torture and the old returnings.
– “Apology for Bad Dreams” (1927)

The picture (found online) is of of Jeffers’ “Tor House” which he built by hand (in the 1920’s and 30’s) near Carmel, California.



Caveat: Some Puer Tea

(Poem #10 on new numbering scheme)

some puer tea
he came to pull out some of the small silences
that grew like weeds.
instead he pushed some poetry into the small cracks
in the pavement.
the air had turned to summer and there were
some bees; some birds.
with something hidden behind his eyes he tasted the sky
out his window.
he laughed. he grimmaced. he cried. he examined
his black pencil.
he decided to brew a small pot of puer tea;
the water boiled.
he spilled some consonants, some vowels. the poem (his life) started big;
and ended small.
just some tea in a cup like a shell cradling orange-brown water,
somewhat bitter.

This poem of mine is unfinished, but I am done with it anyway. I shall go to the doctor again, now.

Caveat: Walking. Ant.

I was composing some englynion (englyns – a Welsh poetry style conceptually similar to haiku). Most are terrible, but here are two I liked.
(Poem #9 on new numbering scheme)

my walking is like talking. stories told
to the earth. old stories sing
new from my footsteps. walking.
the ant pushes against stone with small feet.
its silent creeping alone,
until finally it finds home.

Here is a picture I took the other day (a rainy day) looking toward my building – it’s the tallest one in the center in the farthest distance. I live on the seventh floor. Ilsan has rapidly become summery.

Caveat: Sons and Daughters

I tried to write a poem back on April 22. I didn’t really finish it, but I decided to put it here as-is.
(Poem #8 on new numbering scheme)

Sons and Daughters
The ephemerality of the world is just a stone wall.
There are blossoms on the trees along Gangseon-no.
The suburban pavement exhales.
The air reeks of density,
of garbage
of sand
of springtime
of buses.
There are little square patterns of bricks paving the sidewalk.
I see a discarded umbrella, broken,
its ribs jutting among some weeds.
My students exist in a dream.
I have a couple hundred children,
my alternately charming or obstinate sons and daughters
who then each disappear after a year or two.
My sons and daughters almost never say good-bye.
One day they are in class with me.
One day they are not.
No beginning.
No ceremony.
A month.
A year.
An infinite specificity lies behind this mystery.


Caveat: The Main Cause of Poetry

(Poem #7 on new numbering scheme)

The Main Cause of Poetry
I think the sky is the main cause
of poetry, because sometimes
there is a color or a cloud
and a picture would be useless.
I see the sky that way today.
And I see the leaves on the trees
have so many colors that I
decide to try to write this poem.


Caveat: “dim white”

I wrote this englyn penfyr.
(Poem #6 on new numbering scheme)

the morning sky looked too cold, and dim white,
my window's light like a fold
of feeling, and it looked old.

I see these Welsh poetic forms as something offering the same brevity as haiku but more “native” to the Western – specifically Britannic – tradition, especially with their emphasis on rhyme, consonance and assonance.

Caveat: the January afternoon

(Poem #5 on new numbering scheme)

the sound of the wind
in winter
in the frozen leaves of the frozen trees
is perfect
the buildings trace lavender-shaded
straight lines against pales orange curls of sky
near sunset
there are boys practicing soccer
on the dirt
on the playground of Munhwa Elementary School
and their breath
snakes up in visible lines of white
in the January afternoon
the setting sun reflects
garishly off garish signs
off a building across the street
off in a separate place 
again the sound of the wind
in winter
in the frozen leaves of the frozen trees
is perfect


Caveat: o beloved megalopolis

[this is just a jotting of a poem.  it’s not meant to be a finished product.  i♥서울]
(Poem #4 on new numbering scheme)

o beloved megalopolis
walking crowds
uncountable kilometers of streets and the writhing snakes of expressways
clogged with cars
strewn with neon
littered with convenience stores like breadcrumbs leading to mountainside neighborhoods
the undergrounds spaces
exhale and seem to breathe
breath slightly sweet of kimchi and cheap perfume
walking crowds
of old men spitting
of old women selling hothouse lettuce and radishes and garlic
of children
children playing
riding bikes and scooters
fashionable children
studious children
walking alone at 10 o'clock at night talking on cellphones
cellphones everywhere
four bars everywhere
in vacant lots
in factories
in tunnels
on trains
in subway restrooms
talking crowds
fashionable crowds talking on smartphones
dramatically sighing businessmen
drunk laborers
old women yelling
children gazing about happily
japanese tourists milling
foreigners stealthily alienated
tall buildings
short building
the same buildings over and over
marching across the landscape
soldiers on leave
shopping crowds
young women arguing in cafes
boys arguing on street corners
old men arguing in bars
teenagers arguing near schoolyards
the megalopolis argues with itself cheerfully
the city is always there
brand new
walking crowds
dreaming crowds
dreaming dreams


Caveat: A Stone

(Poem #3 on new numbering scheme)

A Stone
Just give me some thereness. The being in a some-where, unMoving. Resting. Still.
A stone. A stone in a highly regular plane of sand, like a zen garden.

picture[Poem written on date of posting, back-posted on 2011-07-31]

Caveat: Ephemera

(Poem #2 on new numbering scheme)


There were many faces in the corridors.
I had given my seat to an old woman, on the bus, and so I stood the whole way. It’s odd, but there’s no discomfort in standing that way – voluntarily. Swaying.
In the faces, then, I saw the resolve of each person, to live each person’s life. All separately.
On the sidewalk, there was a discarded cigarette, still burning.
I felt despair. These feelings come and go.
Like this, the sun strikes out across the sky in the morning.
I saw it glittering off the side of a glass building. A weird angle.
I felt resolute. These feelings, too, come and go.


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