You walk inside a huge cement building. Away from the street smell of
kimchi and dak noodle boiling in red sauce, from gas and burning oil.
Away from the people rushing by in taxis, men passed out on the street
like slaughtered fish. Their vomit in pools. Your bra pushes into your
solar plexus underneath your tank top. The night is sweating green city
sunset and smoke.
You go up three flights of stairs passing closed offices, DVD bongs
where teenage boys jerk off to American porno flicks. You enter.
Women who look like men stand in corners, girls in miniskirts and
lipstick sit on vinyl pink couches. Strobe lights, smoke, hundreds of
lit cigarettes. All eyes on you. You compulsively eat corn puffs from
a wooden bowl that is refilled by a bartender dressed as an American
1950s butch dyke: white tee shirt, sleeves rolled up.
Women gyrate, hips against hips. A sense that this has never been done
before. Not in public. Everyone is Korean. The butch women drink beer.
The femmes drink purple drinks with pineapple chunks. You drink gin and tonics. Lights swarm: red, black, white, yellow. You see scars on
several women’s arms, stealthy lines like squid tentacles.
You can’t know for sure.
The smoke cuts your lungs. You cannot speak the language. You
smile, they smile. The women who look like men take the women who look
like barbies—stake out territory. The corn puffs magically refill.
Outside, city sprawls. Cement blocks lined up for miles like soldiers.
Inside, a fight ends and the dull roar of the bar replaces shouting voices. You get up to dance, everybody watches.
Nobody dances with you but your drinks are on the house.
Pineapple chunks left from the fight lie like chunks of flesh in ashtrays.
The police drive by with their sirens on. Police have raided this place.
Everyone stands guard—stockings perfectly adjusted, collars up.
Soju is a weapon. Petting melts into kisses. The gyrating smoke is a
charmed snake—but nothing here is exotic. Ashes in a hidden room.
Scarred wrists. The strobe light cuts. What do the women do when they
go home? When the police shut them down? The strobe light stops
but not the music. Your bra is sticky. The room reels. You count your
drinks, the cuts. You dance. You count the steps.
(Published in Poetry International, Issue 11, 2007)