1950 June 27: my father heard the sound of the engine of a North Korean fighter plane, Yak-9. Foremostly and therefore barely consequently in the highest manner, he followed the sound, running towards the city hall. After all it was hardly war. Yak-9, made in Russia, flew over the plaza of the city hall. Then in the most lowly predictably ethically unsound manner from the point of view of everything that is big and beautiful, the sound of the machine gun. He missed the chance to capture the Yak-9 with his camera. That late afternoon the yet-to-be nation’s newspapers were in print, but no photos of the war appeared in any of them. After all it was hardly war, the hardliest of wars, neverthelessly Yak. And it turns out that one thing is better than another. Hence still going forward, napalm again. Always moving up to Choson Reservoir. Always another hill, for in no circumstance can man be comfortable without art. Why that is so has nothing to do with the big problem—what to do with the orphan kids. And always the poor hungry kids. Now look at this and look at it and look at it. This is what the Republic of Korea is fighting for—miles and miles and miles of order words that are given in our society. Merry Christmas, Joe! Phosphorous and flamethrowers. Fire them up!—burn them!—cook them! Beauty is pleasure regarded as the quality of a thing from the point of view of everything that is big and beautiful in the highest manner possible and why that is so has nothing to do with hills and more hills, rivers and more rivers, and rice paddies and more rice paddies. How cold does it get in Korea? Brass monkey cold.
In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985
The strange and wonderful are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes—a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom—
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics—
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?
The exotic is everywhere, it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor’s buttons. But it isn’t the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it’s
a row of them among prim colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother’s garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.
But at this remove what I think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above–
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we’re
made of, is motion.