Three Poems by Spencer Shaak

Winter Janggi in Chilseong Market

You can hear the two men’s chuckles
throughout Chilseong Market.
Their fingers tap
cold octagon pieces
on wooden board
propped by stool.

Hot coffee, scallions, and garlic
rest by their restless feet
as they plan each other’s defeat.

People come and go
sometimes stop in street
to watch both sides unfold,
like two suns splitting rays
over Sincheon River.

Boys and girls run
with fried eomukguk on sticks,
their parents close behind
carrying fresh fruit and vegetables.
Jung-go furniture sells in stands,
mulmandu and gimbap steam
underneath colored umbrellas.

Many hours later
still warm coffee, scallions, and garlic
rest by restless feet
as both men plan each other’s defeat.

People come and go
sometimes stop in the street
to watch both sides unfold
like two half-moons casting shadows
over Sincheon River.
Here you can hear each man laugh
and listen to their Janggi pieces
tap tap tap.
It’s with tips of their caps
they become most alive.

They look like two werewolves
eyeing a full moon.

PC Bang

Oh, but it is smoky!
-this little PC Bang
smoke-filled, smoke-stilled
to choking encounter.
Be careful with your lungs!

PC man wears a hoody
that droops over his face
concealing his cigarette embrace
smoke between teeth.
Who does he meet
on his way home?

Poker cards flicker
on his screen
as he opens brown paper bag.
Three azaleas sleep in back
on a window sill,
still and patient.
Why such pretty petals?
Shouldn’t they be on Mt. Biseul?

Somebody must water these azaleas
or soju them.
Somebody must arrange them
watch them grow
amidst flickering smoke
and poker cards.
Somebody must love us all.

Seoul Man’s Soul

Strumming silver-lined strings to Hey Jude
Wearing New York shirt and shoes
I heard Seoul man play
Down on Dong-Seong-ro the other night
By his radio store’s fainted light.
He rocked back and forth
To the tune, Hey Jude
With his calloused hands on each string
He made that goose-necked guitar sing
Hey Jude
Rocking back and forth on his swivel seat
He played that tune while tapping his feet
Sweet Jude
Coming from a Seoul man’s soul.
O Jude!
In high-pitched voice with pleading tone
I heard Seoul man’s song, his guitar’s stroke:
Hey Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better.
Tap, tap, tap, went his foot on the ground
He strummed more chords then opened his mouth:
Hey Jude, don’t be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better.
And far into the night he played Hey Jude
Till Dong-Seong-ro radio street was lit by moon
Then Seoul Man stopped playing and rested his eyes
While Hey Jude traversed through his mind.
He dreamt like a child, or man missing his wife.


Spencer Shaak is a MFA Writing graduate from Rosemont College in Philadelphia. He has had many great experiences in South Korea from teaching kids to spending great times with friends in downtown Daegu, Pohang, Busan, and Seoul. The following are poems about his own experiences and reflections in South Korea.

Please note: Poetry is compressed to fit smart phone screens. If you are reading this poem on a phone screen, please turn your screen sideways to make sure that you are seeing correct line breaks for this poem.

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