December 7, 2019

Peel and Drag

The bus lurches,

My hand falling for the fourth

Time on the sign that says

‘Do not touch.’

A door opens and the bus

Coughs me into the street.

It rolls away—

I try not to breathe

The exhaust

As the lumbering whale grinds down the street

And disappears,

Flipping its blue gray tail in

Oceans of smoke and neon.

 

The apartment buildings rise high

But I’m early. I turn left.

I enter the store and a girl

Nearly runs me over

On rollerblades,

Chasing her brother, yelling

‘Opa!’

The clerk slumps to his feet, reluctantly,

To weigh my bananas.

An old woman yells for him to hurry up.

He hands them to me, looking away.

I smile and mumble ‘kamsahamnida.’

 

Back on the street I turn left—

Looming apartment buildings.

I sit on the side of the red bricks circling

A tree. Peeling a yellow banana.

 

People leaving the apartments

Passing me

To stand at the bus stop

Have trouble hiding their sidelong glances.

I pretend to look for something on the ground.

They stand awkwardly.

The buses pick them up, dropping off

More puzzled faces and pointing fingers.

I arrange my banana peels

And smile at nothing.

 

I peel another.

To my left I catch a splotch of white.

In a window on the second floor of the building next to me:

A man in a chef’s hat

Smoking a cigarette.

 

He is leaning on one elbow, staring

out the window at

the side of another building.

I eat another banana.

He lifts the cigarette to his mouth,

A mechanical response, like a fish

Mouthing in a bowl.

His tall hat barely

Fits in the window frame.

Another blue gray whale coughs and

Roars up, belching out more noisy children,

And surly young men, and

Tired old women.

 

The man in the chef’s hat has his

Sleeves rolled up.

He takes another drag.

I eat another banana.

His eyes gaze out of his little fishbowl,

Smoke rising, huddled in his thoughts.

His cigarette butts fall to the ground, and my peels ring a
tree.

The whales roar up, spuming fumes.

The chef’s metronome motion

Breathes each drag of smoke.

 

Suddenly,

I hear Kiyoung—

He’s waving at me.

I grab my banana peels

And get up to go.

I look at the window.

But my chef is

Already gone.

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