Beautiful Desert

Ancient land, you jest.
We see the shining airplanes soar
Above the antique royal palaces;
We hear the subway serpent rumble
Beside the mighty Han;
But we know you're only kidding.

The skies of Seoul are tinged with smog
In harsh rebuke of gum-chewing youth;
Corrupt families who run the country
Can't breathe deeply with aching lungs.
The songbird trills we cannot hear
Drown the noise of crowds and traffic.

In the North (we're told) you can catch a carp
As big as a child in Pyongyang's river;
But they live in fear and harsh repression.
In the South the children play in the parks,
But never see a deer or bear:
Even the pigeon hordes are missing.

How long can grass and trees and ants
Sustain our need to be with nature?
The fish swim in the market tanks, and we eat them;
The dogs and cats have vanished, because we eat them.
How long before Korea decides
People cost too much, and she eats them?

But still I see, sometimes and again,
A single squirrel in a tree;
Or a vole will run across my path,
Dragging a promise of numbers behind it.
Black and white goes by awing,
Magpie become a sign of hope.

—Seoul, Korea
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