Written by Annie McGovern, ETA ’12-13
I can’t hear the haul of iron from the bus stop,
but I know it’s there, folded into the wind
that blasts along the murky water behind the bench.
I can smell it, though,
the iron mixed with mud-flat egg, mackerel
and sweet bean bread pulled fresh from the oven.
You know you’ve entered old downtown
when the mountains across the bay are blocked
by the skeletons of Mokpo’s ship-building brigade.
A jingle across the road and the stop fills with school boys
in ironed pants and rolled up shirtsleeves.
They are starched,
and here’s the time to watch the latest girl groups from Seoul,
a rumor of a city, attainable only after the final bell sounds
and sinks into the mud. ‘Someday,’ they think,
and flock onto bus 15, leaving only me
and an old shipbuilder, waiting at the last bus stop
in old downtown.
The bus is late.
Yudal mountain’s peak dissolves into Mokpo dusk,
while car tires screech: “Go home! Go home!”
and the shipbuilder stirs in his layers of coats and sweaters,
his hands and face emerge from the folds, with folds
in himself like a crumpled blanket shoved under the bed,
a hundred years of salt and rust and chain-links
banging on eardrums, sometimes an echo
even when he sleeps.
“Anjeuseyo. Shwisaeyo,” he says.
The wind almost covers his voice, and I curl
my toes on the curb as the bus approaches,
my foot in the door before it even breathes.
In the now dark a woman stoops in the grime
beyond the window, shoulder-bag empty,
and as the new city tunnel swallows me, and the flats
wheel by with their iron beached whales,
their graves of ten thousand octopi,
I realize what the man had said:
“Sit down, please. Rest.”
Anne McGovern is a 2012 – 2013 ETA at Jeongmyeong Girls’ High School in Mokpo.