Thursday, April 27, 2006

Taproot

His words desert him this morning for downtown Manhattan,
carrying briefcases, newspapers and coffee. They do not speak
to each other. They’re thinking of memos, faxes and phonecalls.
They do not look at him, a Chinese wetback waiting to be picked
for a day’s work. Tiny jaws gnaw at him and he wants Matt.

The spotted knapweed migrates fast,
decimating the bluebunch wheat grass.
You can identify it by its pink blooms
in black-mottled bracts on stem tips.

He hurries past fat black women prodding snappers which gape
on beds of ice, past the row of crones blistering next to their red
talismans and I-Ching hexagrams, their faces cracked
like parched ground, past the old men hunched over their paper
chessboards, rolling a cannon across the river or retreating an elephant.

Small populations can be uprooted
by digging and pulling. If they’re established,
spray Picloram at point five pounds
per acre when the plant is a bud.

He passes a boy practicing a Yao Ming hookshot seen on TV,
two young men outside Kowloon Trading stacking empty crates
into a van, the New Land Arcade that squats a quarter-block
and catches the eye with its tall, electrified gold letterings,
and clones of knick-knack shops that claim Little Italy.

The weed is not just hungrier. Its taproot
secretes catechin which triggers natives
to kill their own cells. It is not just lean,
as one scientist puts it, but mean.

He plunges, two steps at a time, into Canal Street Station.
In the car’s electric lighting, he looks for Matt
in the young white men and lurches into them. The train shrieks.
Fulton Street. The grid has crazed into a maze dead-ended
by tower blocks, to be traced with the red thread of a previous visit.

Trials are being carried out
to determine if bio-agents work.
The weevil is a candidate. A species
of seed-head gallflies looks promising.

He pulls Matt, word made flesh, out of his standard chair, out
of the office and its mite-dusted carpet into the men’s and locks
their mouths. He works his man’s belt loose and turns him
round. Matt pulls his tan shirt over his head and arms. The tenant bends
over his white boy’s blue-veined torso. This is also his farm.

4 comments:

Larry said...

Jee,

This poem gives me a crazy idea - that you are supposed to write a novel-long poem around it, weaving ever-more dense webs of connection between the themes of racial/sexual dislocation and takeover. It would be your Paterson - an epic of a place and position that express something much larger and capture a major stand of American culture.

Your depiction of Chinatown bustle is great, and the sinister parallelism of the weed promises a scope of incident which your ending can't really cover - only hint at. The character also still seems to be only beginning to materialize.

I know you consider this poem central since you once proposed the name Taproot for your chapbook. I wonder if you also share the feeling that the size and vision of the poem should be seriously and ambitiously expanded.

I've read so many of your rhymed poems recently that the freedom of your 14-syllable sprung lines is very refreshing. You write very fluently and the tension of rhyming gives way to a joy of description and an uncramped relish in disorder and juxtaposition.

Thanks,
Larry

Jee Leong Koh said...

Larry,
you are a generous and diplomatic chap. I guess you don't much care for my ballads written for NaPo. Here I am, thinking how experimental and severe my hymns to the body are, only to be praised for joyful description and uncramped relish in an old poem. You have thrown me into an artistic crisis.

I have no talent for writing a novel. What little I have seems more suited for a theme and variations than for a narrative arc.

Thanks, friend.

Jee Leong

Larry said...

Ha, you are hypersensitive - what a non-surprise!

To tell you the truth, the formal poems - especially the short-lined ones - are a different experience for me, although obviously the same sensibilities show through. In the rhymers I get worked up and a bit nervous following your heavily modified meter and trying to weigh your choices alongside you, back-seat-writing your poem. It feels more perilous to me, but offers many rewards of clever rhymes and offbeat connections. Whereas in Taproot it all flows effortlessly and I can relax.

Artistic crises is what we are made of, isn't it? I don't expect you to ever choose between styles except on a poem-by-poem basis. I need your experimental and severe poems as much as I need your relaxed ones (well, relatively relaxed, let's not get carried away).

Here's the outline of the novel: there is a chapter about Matt on his own. He's not really gay, but he's playing
N for money and a place to crash. A chapter about work where N does construction with a group of Romanians, a chapter about a walk in the park, a chapter about a night in town, a car accident, a phone call from his brother in Canada. Well, I guess I don't have what it takes to outline a novel either.

Regards,
Larry

Jee Leong Koh said...

Yeah, don't get carried away. Your talk of "need" makes me nervous. Or excited. And.

I like the Romanian construction workers bit. Men at work.

Jee Leong