Monday, May 11, 2015

About to Fly

Some thoughts I penned in the airport before leaving South Korea, after two years of living and teaching there.

So, you sit in a cafe. You speak Korean to the barista; she understands you and you understand her. You do not know when next you will say these words, have the feeling of them on your tongue.

The cafe is average and the coffee bad. It is loud and full of patrons. A young woman spills a drink, rushes for napkins. You have learned to appreciate coffee, both when it’s good, and when its bad just for its presence, hot and bitter.

The cafe is nestled deep in the airport, in the international terminal, past the security check point and immigration, where the officer took away your Alien Registration Card. He asked simply, May I keep this? And you nodded because you expected this, and in fact the process in this bureaucratic country was in this instance surprisingly simple. Still, a filament was broken then, one more strand of the many that tie you here, parting like piano wire under great strain. Many of these lines are stretched taught and you feel their hooks pulling in the muscle of your heart.

These are your last images of this country: a sticky table under globular lights, everyone around you in transit, unmoored, the sunset over the wing of the waiting aircraft. The ceiling of the terminal stretching low into the distance like an inverse runway. Duty free shops lit like upscale bars, egg-shell lamps, all products seemingly false.

Behind you are the green monsoon mountains, furred in pines, and the granite islands heaving from sea-glass breakers. Salt off the sea in the wind. Warm night air and calm sea, swimming naked. Herons and egrets hunting in the damp evening through the green rice paddies. Dish upon dish filling the low tables, pallets of colors and flavors in food, each precise. Coffee and beer and rice wine and liquor. Nights danced down to morning and the hot sun coming. And all those friends, each face and voice distinct, unique.

This is one of those terrible wonderful moments, when its clear that not one of us can be replaced. Not a moment with another person can be replaced. Yet the past persists this way, in flashing clarity of memory, in the deep tug in the heart of your heart.

Remember this. Even this moment, when you feel adrift and countryless, when no one near you will you see again, when you are in transit to another life. Remember the feeling of your friends face against your chest, her hot tears. Remember conversations in the night by the sea, hearing the waves. Remember reading Spanish poetry, remember singing in harmony. Remember friends and friends and friends.

You, lonely and hurting, you have memory, as you fly to another country.