Snow in Seoul

My goal today is going out and I’m gung ho, inoculating a cresting headache with my last two pills, and armed with maps. It’s Saturday. Time to exchange the inner for the outer world. The Spanish writer in the next room writes to ask if he should burst the blister on his foot he got from boiling water yesterday. He has a needle and some iodine. And Oh it’s snowing. It’s snowing? Today’s my day for going out! The last day of the Hongdae Free Art Market and I’m going. I got up four hours late but I’m going. I have a cold but still I’m going. I could stay in, just like all week, but this is Saturday. I’m going. I run to the window and prise apart the slats of blinds. It’s snowing. I run to the kitchen and raise the blinds. It’s snowing. In biggish clumpish flakes which melt at oscillating touchdown, giving up the ghost beside the now wet moraines of leaves. Nagyeop. I can’t go out. If there is one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that you don’t argue with snow. Like poetry, it has its own economy. Unlike poetry, it’s not benevolent. I go back to bed. Browse for two hours. Decide to take a short nap, set my phone timer for thirty minutes, roll over and somehow emerge from the roll standing upright by my bed, reaching for a change of clothes and throwing maps, gloves, hat into my green elephant bag. What happened? Upon entering the roll a poem title appeared, “Snow in Seoul.” While rolling, I thought 40 lines. One of those poems you’re relieved to find is not about its title. Three quarters way through I thought Here I go again, before I know it’ll be dark, another day gone. Next thing it’s as if someone somehow drives a prong through me. I am speared from the warm bed and put standing upright by its side. I just am. Definitively. No way am I not going to Hongdae. Don’t know if I can find the Free Market or not. Couldn’t last Saturday. But I’m going. I’m out of here. And I am. As soon as I get to the bus-stop, the bus sweeps into view, on cue. The driver is one unhappy mother. Even without Korean I know that from the way he drives, jolting and rattling all of us hanging from straps and packed into the bus. At every stop more people get on. If someone asks him a question, he mumbles, and if they ask again, he shouts. Then he goes back to throwing us around again, a shock we acknowledge by almost looking at each other. I know my stop will be the sixth stop. I have been to the neighborhood of the fifth stop before and when we get there everyone gets off so, tired of being thrown around and reluctant to go by bus into unknown territory when I can’t even see out the windows, at the last second I get off too, even validating my T Money card. If I had stayed home in bed the phone timer would be going off now, or soon, with a fanfare disproportionate to its scale. I would be steamy and warm, aiming knives of recrimination against myself, deciding whether to begin or postpone writing the poem “Snow in Seoul.” The day I had imagined outside was cold and challenging. The actual day is warm and squelchy, necessitating and not necessitating an umbrella in equal measure. I have a yellow umbrella. My phone burns like a vermilion tongue in my bag. In my head, I would find the market, led by some reptilian brain lodestone. In real life, I walk as far as Hapjeong, hunting for the couple of markers I can read on the map: a GS 250, Papa John’s, before turning and coming back towards Hongik. What does it matter? It doesn’t matter. I am out. The wide street is loaded with traffic, skyscrapers stacked alongside like books at the end of term, the sky frowns, lowering as if to scold or hit, the metro pulsing up the million beautiful faces of the young people of Seoul. In my head, the market was magical, a bazaar, lit with lanterns in the deepening November dusk. In fact, if for sure I found the place, it is a little playground but there is no-one there except five or six tallish teenage boys, practicing rap. Maybe this is not the place. Maybe last week was the last week. Outside the playground, a few stalls are still open. A man is packing things into a case. A young woman walks down the street with her portfolio. A man and a woman are giving free samples of nut brittle. The market is over, or some place else. I walk all the way home, without falling. Even if it is in prose, I write the poem.

Quinn Byrne