The Poet, the Rapist, and the Cops
by Robert Perchan
By the time the album of polaroid snapshots reached Rookie Patrolman Pak it had already passed through the hands of everyone above him in his Section and more than half a dozen of the fifty-odd photos had disappeared. This did not surprise Rookie Patrolman Pak. Some of the snapshots were said to be “better” than the others. The poses, of course, were pretty much the same: the young woman in each lay sprawled on the back seat of the taxi, her skirt or dress hiked above her waist, her panties gone, her legs spread wide enough to reveal the wet pink of a violated cleft, her face puffy but relaxed with the zoned-out look of the drugged and the occasional thread of drool oozing from the corner of her mouth. In the instances where she had worn slacks or jeans, these were gone too.
Some of the young women were prettier than the others and Rookie Patrolman Pak figured that the very prettiest ones were also the missing ones. This only made sense. He wondered if he dare take one for himself, but as a mere Rookie Patrolman this didn’t seem wise. He should be grateful Detective Lt. Ko had said to Evidence Clerk Lee, “Let Pak have a look at them. Let him have a look at what goes on out there at night. Let him head straight for the Men’s Room — then he’ll do one of two things, eh? Ha ha!” Rookie Patrolman Pak turned the stiff leaves of the album with its four polaroid snapshots per page carefully centered in their quadrants. The taxi driver had snapped each one from the same angle so that the private part of the young woman came out clear and well-defined, though the faces on the tilted-back heads of some of the young women were beyond identification. If you woke up out of a drugged stupor and a man leaned over you and shoved a photo in front of your nose and said “This is your face and your filthy buh-jee and if you tell anyone about tonight you know what you can expect from me” — well, what would a decent girl do? She would not broadcast her degradation and heap more shame upon herself. It was, Rookie Patrolman Pak reflected, unfair. But the young woman was not without her involvement in the affair. This kind of thing didn’t happen in broad daylight. These young women had been out late. Past 10 PM. And some of the skirts weren’t so long they needed a lot help getting above her hips. And didn’t common sense dictate you don’t accept a stick of gum — or any kind of tasty drink or wrapped sweet — from a stranger? Korean women were too trusting and polite. They treat everybody they meet like part of one big family, and that’s not the way life is.
Rookie Patrolman Pak turned the stiff leaves of the album. Four girls per page. Four puffy faces. Four black tufts and four slivers of pink. In between, a rumpled sweater or a disheveled blouse and a skirt turned inside-out. As different as each face was in its way — one young woman seemed almost to be smiling coyly and another seemed in the throes of a religious experience and a third seemed to be sneaking a supercilious peek at the action — they were all the same for all that. Until he came to the seventh page, top right. Here he paused, uncertain, lingering over the parted lips, the slack chin. The dilated, round nostrils. He could almost feel them breathing. But with the head thrown back in this particular snapshot, the eyes, the browridge, the forehead were almost beyond ken, like a dim landscape on the edge of a horizon. But the girl’s pubic triangle —an elongated, slender wedge of maidenish hairs like a narrowing phalanx of ants disappearing into a crevice nicked in pallid flesh — stunned him.
Only a Korean man, the American thought as he read the morning newspaper spread out in front of him on the kitchen table, would rape a woman and then drive her home and leave her with his telephone number. It was all there in an article framed by ads for English language institutes and satellite TV services and headhunting agencies. How the college girl had jumped to her death from the fourteenth floor of her apartment building. How her mother had found her diary and read it and how the girl had transcribed the taxi driver’s phone number in red felt-tip pen at the end of the final entry. How the mother had carried the diary to the police station the day after the funeral. How the police had picked up the cabby and opened his trunk and found the photo album of polaroid snapshots. Fifty young women. Over fifty. Fifty-two, to be exact. How the police had gone over the cab and found fifty-two identical slashes carved in the driver’s leather steering wheel cover. “Handle,” they call it, instead of steering wheel, which was appropriate enough, given how the locals just seem to just grab on to the thing and hold on for dear life.
The American clipped the article from the page, folded it twice and tucked it in his pocket. He needed a topic for the morning’s Advanced English Conversation class. They had been through everything in the textbook from UFO Abductions through Abortion and Asian Women’s Preference for Sons during the first half of the term and he was feeling pressed to come up with something “fresh.” This might bedevil the consciences of the students enough to last a whole class period. Maybe two, if he could coax the girl with the glittery black eyes and high, tight butt — a rare sight in Asia! — to open up a little. It was the sullenness of the pretty ones that bothered him. He didn’t much care anymore if the Plain Janes jumped in or not. Or if the males like the one named Osama even bothered to show up at all. Though inevitably they did, along with the jabbering, irrepressible homely girls with the Minnie Mouse pencil boxes and Brad Pitt book covers.
The American had an arithmetical figure he tossed about in his mind as he showered after reading reports like this one in the morning paper. In his twenty-six years of life in the States and one in Mexico, he had known personally only three women who confessed to him they had been raped. And one of these was possibly the most lascivious drunk he had ever met in his life. In three years in Seoul, fully seven women had come out and told him they had been violated by strangers or men they knew. Eight, if you counted Hee-jung and the Dutch woman missionary. The American sometimes wondered if there weren’t something in his character, some subtle display of empathy operating on a level he was unaware of, that eased the delivery of such confidences. Back in the States he had rarely thought about rape, except on special consciousness-raising campus occasions like Take Back the Night night. In Korea he thought about it almost every day —especially in the mornings. He wondered sometimes, in those morning moments of honesty so airy and fleeting they seldom left even the remotest tracings of an imprint, if he was becoming more perverse, more sensitive, or merely more angry. Or all three, though that scarcely seemed possible.
After stuffing his lunchtime sandwiches into his briefcase and checking his watch, he sat down at the typewriter and knocked out a quick one:
LIKE PISTOL GRIPS: MACHISMO
KOREAN STYLE: SEOUL, 2001
Young women are cautioned against
accepting anything to eat or drink
from taxi drivers, particularly after
sunset, as these offerings are often
laced with drugs.
— News Report
When they uncrumpled
and removed the headless
and pried open the buckled
they found a polaroid
of his victims’ spread
which they checked against
what they’d found
the steering wheel:
The “crotches/notches” rhyme was just right, he decided as he typed up a clean copy with someone special in mind, in the end resisting the impulse to overcorrect himself with “gashes/slashes.” It wasn’t Shakespeare, he knew, or Keats or even cummings, but they didn’t have 10 AM classes.
Taxidriver Baek had neither the time, the money, nor the inclination for whores. He has fathered two children, a son, seventeen, and a thirteen-year-old daughter. His wife aborted a third child, a female. He has been driving a taxi for nine years, ever since his brother-in-law, six years his senior, went bankrupt. His brother-in-law had had a shop producing counterfeit Izod labels that were stitched on sport shirts that were sold to Western tourists and American GIs in Itaewon, a tourist area in Seoul known for its bargains and prostitutes. Business was good because the labels were good, even better than the real thing, his brother-in-law had pointed out just before a foreign government raised such a stink and the Ministry of Justice was forced to raid a couple of the smaller operations. Taxidriver Baek was his brother-in-law’s hands-on man just as the business was swinging into full swing. Nudged off the swing he fell plumb into the driver’s seat of a company cab and discovered a vocation. Within four years he had a cab of his own and no one to answer to, except Bin-hee, his wife.
The police had succeeded in locating taxidriver Baek because taxidriver Baek had left his phone number and a note in the purse of his last rape victim before he let her off, no doubt groggy and bit wobbly in the knees, in front of her apartment building. Identifying the other fifty-one victims would not prove so easy because taxidriver Baek had trained the lens of his polaroid camera more on the naked crotches than on the faces of the women. Nevertheless, taxidriver Baek had left notes threatening to expose at least fourteen of his victims’ degradations unless they paid him one million won (about $1,000) in “security money.” This was known because taxidriver Baek had left a notebook underneath the photo album listing the names and addresses of these fourteen victims, and when and where they had met him for the pay-offs and how much they had coughed up. It was not known whether any or all of the other thirty-seven victims had received such notes, whether or not they had contacted him or if any payments had been made. Of the fourteen victims whose names and addresses were known from the notebook, seven denied that they had ever been raped and, when shown photos of their puffy, zoned-out faces, contended that “Many women look like that. That’s not me (or mine).” Five others admitted under interrogation that had been violated in the manner outlined above and had made at least one pay-off, one woman having stated she had given taxidriver Baek a total of four million won (about $4,000) in “hush money” on four separate occasions. A sixth victim whose name and address were known had committed suicide, but the exact circumstances surrounding the tragedy were unclear. The seventh victim had left the Republic and was living overseas, presumably in the United States or Canada.
Detective Lt. Ko, at a meeting with three of the city’s senior detectives and with the photo album spread open on the top of his desk, asked for suggestions and watched three pairs of shoulders rise and fall in a single shrug. Though he had been able to match the names of all fourteen of the women in taxidriver Baek’s notebook with photos and though the last photo in the album clearly belonged to the suicide whose diary entry had exposed the monster in the first place (a photo ceremoniously and mercifully burned at the bottom of a metal wastebasket late one evening by a disgusted Detective Lt. Ko himself), still he hadn’t been able to pin a name on a single one of the remaining victims, and Deputy Chief Choi —his immediate supervisor —had insinuated just the day before that perhaps Detective Lt. Ko was losing his touch. Detective Lt. Ko had even convinced Precinct Captain Noh to offer ten promotion points to anyone who could crack an i.d. on even just one of the “unknowns” but the offer had to be rescinded when a neighborhood housewives’ council complained about patrolmen canvassing local market stalls and showing dirty pictures to rapt, chin-scratching male merchants. When the story finally hit the newspapers, it did so with a vengeance and city crime reporters, bristling at being kept in the dark for so long but agreeing not to print any given names, wanted ages, marital statuses, occupations, and family names —this last no serious breach of privacy in a country where better than two-fifths of the population share the surnames Kim, Pak, or Lee — to flesh out their articles. The snapshots of the fourteen women who had been identified had been checked off with a black felt-tip pen, but Detective Lt. Ko still had photos of twenty-nine (eight had long before disappeared from the album, like gap-teeth in one long paginated death grimace) young women on his hands and no idea of what their names were, to say nothing about how to locate them. These twenty-nine anonymous snapshots had become so familiar to Detective Lt. Ko and the others in the precinct station that many of them now went by sophomorically vulgar “nicknames” — the inventions of rakish bachelor Sergeant Lim and Evidence Clerk Lee — rather than case numbers: postage stamp, horned caduceus, maidenhair fern, brushfire, peek-a-boo, forked pennant, shaggy lady, black-beetles-swarm-the-honey-pot, etc.
Some minutes after Detective Lt. Ko ushered his three senior colleagues from his office, Rookie Patrolman Pak approached uncertainly the pebbled glass of this same office door and, choking back a frothy mixture of revulsion and pity rising his throat, decided not to go in and tell what he knew after all.
The gloom of the overcast, drizzly late autumn morning seemed to have soaked in to the very souls of the students, who sat listlessly in their desk-chairs and gazed up at the American with what Koreans call myung-tae nun — “dead pollack eyes.” Morning receptions like this present a special challenge to a teacher who needs the cooperation, if not the bubbling enthusiasm, of the entire group, but this morning the American felt he was up to it. After dutifully taking roll by calling out the given names —“Esther” “John” “Peter” “Madonna” — he had instructed his charges to choose for themselves on the very first day of class, he passed out copies of the article he had clipped from the newspaper only an hour earlier. The usual murmurs of confusion and muted alarm rippled through the classroom as when any novelty was introduced into the routine — today clearly they were going to be denied the security blanket of a textbook lesson format — and the American knew how adroitly he launched into the topic would determine how successfully the hour would go. He opted for the “personal” approach he had been turning over in his mind in those minutes he spent trundling up the steps of the Foreign Languages Building.
“This morning, after reading the English-language newspaper,” he announced as darkly and meaningfully as he could, “I wrote a poem. It wasn’t a very good poem, I dare say. But in my rush to get ready for class, I still felt a powerful compulsion to express myself. And so I sat down and wrote it. Now together let’s read the article that so affected me and see how it affects you.”
At this point he scanned the room of faces, searching for the pair of glittery black eyes that belonged to Lily, she of the high, tight butt and competent English. He wanted her to know that he wrote poems. That he was more than a knock-off of Mr. Ed The Magical English-Speaking Horse with a pedagogical twist, though he would not have minded if she imagined that he was hung with such equine splendor. When he finally located her — she was sitting to his right near a window today, having moved up and back and sideways like a chess piece throughout the first half-semester —he called on her to read the first sentence of the article.
“Yesterday a Seoul taxi driver,” she began haltingly, “was arrested on charges of raping as many as 52 high school and college students and young housewives over a period of five years.”
The girl was visibly moved, and her black eyes ceased to glitter as she struggled to get the last words out. The American remembered an English literature professor who years before had induced in him the same suffocating shortness of breath — what Koreans call dahp-dahp ha-da — whenever he was required to read a Herbert or Donne poem aloud in the classroom, and he rebuked himself for putting the pretty girl through the ordeal.
“Thank you, Lily. Your pronunciation is improving. There were ten ‘r’ sounds and three ‘l’ sounds in that sentence, and you misfired on only two of them. Keep it up,” he encouraged her, wondering apropos of nothing if she would be able to pronounce the difference between “leer” and “rear” and making a mental note to construct a naughty tongue-twister around “A li’l leer at Lily’s really rare rear” when he had the time.
“Now, Osama,” he nodded to the ardent nationalist student activist with rabbit teeth who was convinced that homosexuality had been introduced into his country by American GIs at the nearby military base (or else by the CIA, it depended) with the intention of “softening steely Korean manhood to putty” and making the peninsula easier to exploit as a vassal state. “Would you please read the next sentence.”
Osama scrutinized the sheet of paper in front of him as if he were deconstructing the text for some treacherous hidden meaning and, failing to find the unfairly privileged half of a fatal binary opposition, obeyed. “Baek Bum-nok, 42, of Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, was apprehended only after the mother of his latest victim brought her daughter’s diary to the attention of . . .”
Of the five females who acknowledged they had been raped by taxidriver Baek and who agreed to press charges against him, the testimony of Kim Mi-ryong (not her real name), 28, is fairly representative: “He picked me up in front of Seoul (Train) Station. I had just arrived from Taegu and was a little tired from the journey, so I was very happy to catch a taxi so quickly. I decided not to stand in line at the Taxi Queue because you can wait there for an hour in the blowing rain on some days. I decided to take my chances by walking down the street a ways and hailing a taxi from there. That’s where he picked me up — not in front of the station exactly. He seemed like a very nice man, like an older brother. Clean-shaven and soft-spoken and very personable and not like some taxi drivers who stink of soju, you know, and his taxi was spotless inside too. I could tell he took good care of it. I was a little tired because I had had to take the Bidulgi (cheap) train and not the Saemaul Express from Taegu and the trip took six hours with so many stops. I told him to take me to Bongsang-dong, which is where my sister and brother-in-law live and whom I had been staying with while I searched for an apartment of my own in Seoul. Because I’m originally from Taegu and only just recently had gotten a job in Seoul. He seemed very nice, like I said, and didn’t grumble when I told him where I wanted to go, Bongsang-dong. Because some taxi drivers don’t like to go there because it’s outside of town a bit and not so populous and sometimes they complain that they won’t be able to find a return fare and sometimes try to charge you extra because of this. He offered me a Yakult — the yogurt drink that comes in the little throw-away plastic bottle with the silver-paper cap. I drank it through the little plastic straw that he gave me that comes with the Yakult. I was already tired and didn’t think about it when I became woozy and then I passed out. When I woke up . . . I was in the back seat still but lying on my back. My skirt was above my hips and I don’t know what happened to my underpanties. But, no, I didn’t realize that at first because I was still groggy and for a moment thought I was still on the train from Taegu. Then I focused my eyes and saw him leaning over the front seat and looking down at me. First at my face and then at my, you know, down-below. He was smiling. He asked me how much money I made a month. (I had already told him my job earlier when we had a conversation.) At first I didn’t understand anything and then I began to know that something terrible had happened. My down-below felt cold and so I put my hands down there and I discovered I was naked and he could see everything and so quickly I pulled down my skirt and tried to sit up. But he pushed me back down and told me to lie still. Then he showed me the picture. The photograph snapshot. He held it in front of my eyes but wouldn’t let me touch it when I tried to grab it from him. I had no quickness still and couldn’t get it. And he was strong, too. I knew this when he pushed me down. He asked me how much money I made a month again and then he wanted to know my phone number too. I refused to say anything. What could I say? What could I do? It was hard to think. It was impossible to think. Then he said some truly disgusting things that I will not repeat here, though I remember them just as clearly as if it were this morning. Nobody in my life had ever spoken that way in front of me. I felt like a cheap whore. So he drove me home — I mean to my sister’s apartment building. I was crying now, but I noticed that his taxidriver’s permit on the dashboard was gone — if it had been there in the first place, I don’t know. I got out of the taxi. I just wanted to get away from that disgusting, horrible man. My sister and brother-in-law were asleep when I got inside the apartment. I had been staying with them for two months and I had a key. I went into the bathroom and washed every part of my body, for every part of me felt soiled in a way. Then I went to bed and tried to sleep but I could only cry silently. I didn’t want anybody to wake up and find out what had happened. The next morning I opened my purse and saw that he had taken all my money too. And he had left a note in my purse with his phone number on it and some threatening words about the photograph. I kept thinking about the photograph for weeks. Finally I called the number and asked him what he wanted. He wanted money. So I met him and paid him one million won. That was one month’s salary, and part of the money I had put aside for apartment key money. I thought he would give me the photograph then. But he didn’t. He just disappeared with my money. Foolishly I had given him my phone number at that meeting. Because I thought he was going to give me the photograph. And then I could be done with him. But he didn’t give it to me. He called me twice more, but I never met him again. I knew he would never give me the photograph. Sometimes I wondered if there had ever really been a photograph. I was drugged, you know, when he showed it to me. So I just refused to speak to him. I just hung up when he called. That was two years ago. That’s all I want to say. Isn’t that all I have to say?”
Rookie Patrolman Pak decided to become a policeman sometime during the protracted funk he suffered after being dumped by Young-hee, the girl he had dated without her parents’ knowledge during the two years after high school while he hung about looking for a job and waiting, with fatalistic equanimity, for his military induction notice. Thirty months of military service is compulsory in the Republic of South Korea and though few young men look forward to it, fewer still dare express any apprehension about its notorious rigors. All he hoped was that he would not be stationed along the DMZ and have to stay up on guard duty the long winter nights staring into the frozen north and listening to the incessant propaganda harangues broadcast over loudspeakers by the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.
The night before he was to report for his physical examination, he took Young-hee to a yogwan — a modest inn frequented by lovers, penurious travelers, and streetwalkers and their johns — and they made love for the first time. It was the first time he had seen her naked — indeed the first time he had seen any woman unclothed. And naturally enough her body was a marvel. He adored her breasts and said so. When she got up off the yo — a sort of heavy quilt serving as a mattress on the floor of the yogwan room — to use the toilet, he had to stifle the urge to hoot in exclaim at the supple animal movement and shapeliness of her rounded, low-slung buttocks as she crossed the room. But most resplendent of all on that first night of lovemaking was the configuration of her pubic tuft: like a phalanx of black ants narrowing to a point and then disappearing into a tiny cleft nicked in her flesh. But he felt no urge to cry aloud at this revelation as Young-hee entered the room again and crossed the floor toward him and settled at his side. For he understood that she was sharing with him that night a deep and private secret that mere praise could never hope to do justice. And, besides that, there was the simple fact that his breath had been completely taken away.
Private First Class Pak received his Dear John letter only days before he was to go on leave for the Lunar New Year’s holidays, three days of gorging on his mother’s food and binge drinking with his old high school classmates. And, until he opened Young-hee’s short, hand-scrawled note and read her awkward, strangely stilted argument why she felt they were no longer “compatible,” at least one night of love. Back home, he tried ringing her up half a dozen times the first day, but her mother’s curt Eupseyo! (“Not here!”) each time left him standing alone in the phone booth feeling foolish, abused, and resentful. The mother had never liked him —he wasn’t college-bound —and it clearly made no difference that he was now serving their country.
He asked his friends —their dating was no secret among his peers —if they had seen her, but by all accounts it was if she had been swept off the face of the earth. Koreans’ is a “face-saving” culture and not unusually does the jilting partner of a pair seem to simply disappear rather than confront the complicated linguistic matter of saying, politely and respectfully, “I just don’t care for you the way I used to.” One friend took him aside the afternoon of the day before he was to return to his unit and intimated that he had heard that somebody had spotted Young-hee working in a none too savory place. And plying a none too savory trade. Private First Class Pak could tell that this friend had more information than he was letting on and pressed him with all the considerable urgency a young man in uniform and on military leave can muster. She was working in an area called Texas Alley in a bar called Injun Joe’s, a hangout for horny American GIs with too many dollars and too much empty bedtime on their hands.
That any of this might be true haunted the rest of Private First Class Pak’s afternoon and early evening with hurtful, maddening insistence. He knew that he had to verify the rumor and, if true, confront her with his rage and indignation. That a young woman with Young-hee’s spirit and good looks and decent prospects might choose to become a whore was incredible, but such a woman whoring for foreigners was wholly unthinkable, a gross violation of nature. So when he strode in mufti into Injun Joe’s and saw her sitting in a booth in the smoky half-light between two huge black American GIs, he doubted that it was really her at all. And when her eyes drifted across the room and fell upon his stunned gaze, they showed no sign of recognition. Instead in them smoldered the contempt that he knew such women —women who had gone to bed with foreigners for money —felt for the men of her own people. She saw him not as a man, an individual, her former lover, but as a loathsome specimen of a despised race. He saw this in her eyes and knew that this was not her, not really her, and turned and walked away. He could not save her. She was too far gone. She was not herself anymore.
The class had come off rather well, the American thought, despite the shaky start. Lily and Osama said nothing further during the entire period, but the others —especially the homely girls with their plump cheeks and enjambed dentition —had picked up the slack with alacrity. Most everyone had an opinion on the college student’s suicide, and these opinions, like votes, slipped evenly and neatly into two opposing slots. Some felt that she had no choice but to kill herself, as horrible as it sounded to say that. The memory of the violation would haunt her to the end of her days. And the knowledge that the vile monster had her photograph would just make the affair all that much more unbearable. It could surface at any time. What if someone robbed the taxi driver’s taxi and made off with the pictures and published them in some underground dirty magazine? Pornography was on the rise and lapping at people’s heels like a backed up sewer and Confucian Korea could do little to staunch the flow. What if the taxi driver had an accident and was knocked unconscious or killed and the rescue workers came across the snapshot album? (At this suggestion the American drew back a moment and pressed his shoulderblades against the blackboard and wondered if the girl called Eureka had somehow stumbled upon access to his darkest fantasies.) What if she got lucky and married a successful man and the taxi driver tracked her down and blackmailed her the way he had some of the other women? There simply would be no end to her misery. She had to die.
Others felt her life could have been salvaged. Suicide is never an acceptable solution. With counseling. The help of her family and friends. People were more open-minded and understanding these days. Some good man might even marry her. She wasn’t ruined. Any psychological hurt can be repaired. Any disgrace. It takes time, sure. Buddhist nunneries were full of recovering women, and some of them even returned to “social life.” And she had the son-of-a-bitch’s (one female student actually used the word, gae-seki) phone number. The police, the legal system, a long stretch in the penitentiary. If she had been a close friend of mine, the student named Richard boasted in an English bristling with unnuanced thrusts in just about every direction, I would have found the bastard out and cut off his —here he fumbled for just the right word —“janitor.” (Presumably, the American hazarded, he meant “genitals.”) The American noted that it was the students who most believed in the infinite possibilities of redemption who employed the foulest language, and wondered if he might be missing something.
Yes, the American thought, the class had come off well. Almost everyone had seized upon the opportunity to get their English out into the open air —well, anyway, the classroom was hardly hermetically insulated —and give it some exercise. And, better, later that afternoon Lily showed up at his office door. He invited her in and she sat down in the wooden desk-chair that student visitors inevitably chose as proper to their station. In her hands she clutched the sheet of paper he had folded twice and tucked into her palm in the hallway after class. It had been a rather daring thing to do, he knew, but she was a couple years older than the other sophomores and didn’t seem to share confidences with her classmates. He had been watching her for better than six weeks now. Those glittery black eyes. That high, tight butt. Her competent English.
“Why did you give me this poem? I don’t like this poem. I don’t want to read this poem.”
“You don’t like poetry? But I always see you with books of poetry among your textbooks. I thought you liked poetry.”
“I like real poetry. Elizabeth Browning. William Yeats. Not this.” And she handed him back the sheet of paper folded several more times than the original quarto he had slipped her. “Not this. This is disgusting.”
“I’m sorry,” he retreated. “I miscalculated. I guess I misguessed.”
“A nonce word. A neologism. Again, I’m sorry.”
“No. You are a teacher. You shouldn’t apologize.”
“What else can I do?”
“Explain. Just explain.”
“Well,” he struggled for the exact word, the one that would tip the balance, or at least open up an avenue of escape. “I wanted you to understand my anger. My rage.”
“Yes. Why me?”
He thought: Those glittery black eyes. That high, tight butt. Her competent English. And said:
“I just thought you were interested in poetry.”
“No. Not like that,” she said with grim finality.
“May I leave now?”
“Yes. Of course. You’re free to go any time you wish.”
She stood up from the desk-chair and walked to the door. At the door she turned and faced him.
“I used to think you were cute. Now I think you’re a pig. ‘Leda and the Swan’ is a beautiful poem because it was a swan. A god. Not a man. Not everyone thinks rape is a joke.”
As she exited the room, the American glimpsed the student named Osama standing in the hall. He waited for a knock on the door, but none came.
Rookie Patrolman Pak stood uncertainly outside Detective Lt. Ko’s office. This time he knocked on the door and waited for the expected grunt of permission to enter. Then he heard it. And so entered. Stood at attention. Snappily saluted his superior who sat behind his desk turning over the stiff leaves of the photo album.
“Sir, I . . .”
“Yes, yes. Come on. Which one do you want?”
“Everybody seems to want a souvenir. You might as well have one too.”
“Sir, there is one victim I want to id—”
“So you do have a favorite? So you’re no different from all the others. Well, come on, then. Hurry up.”
“Take any one that suits your fancy. We have enough testimony and hard evidence to put this gae-seki away for a long, long time.”
“Come on, Pak! You’re trying my patience.”
“Page seven, sir,” he said hurriedly, with all the unthinking obedience of the newcomer to a hierarchy. “Upper right-hand corner.”
“That one? You can’t see her face at all.”
“No, sir. I don’t need to,” Rookie Patrolman Pak said bitterly as Detective Lt. Ko peeled the snapshot off the adhesive backing of the photo album page and sailed it across his desk like a dealt card.
“I see their faces every night before I go to sleep,” Detective Lt. Ko confessed wearily. “Even the faces that are not in the pictures.”
“Tell me, Rookie Patrolman Pak. Can you imagine the face of the woman in that picture you chose?”
“No, sir,” Rookie Patrolman Pak lied, burying the secret deep and forever in his heart and suddenly feeling all the stronger for it, all the more in control of himself. “I can’t imagine her face at all.”
“That’s very sad, Rookie Patrolman Pak. That’s very sad indeed.”
“Sorry. Only one to a customer. And remember your place.”
When the American unfolded the sheet of paper that the student named Lily had returned to him, he discovered that it did not contain his poem at all. In its place he found the words of the “declaration” that student protesters had been passing out at the campus main gate since the big announcement two weeks before. And in spite of —or was it in fact because of? —the execrable grammar and puerile demoniolect of fevered hissing and spitting, he felt the genuine poetry of resentment and pent-up rage leaking through:
NO MORE PLUNDER, YANKEE!
We are giving a strict warning to you just in time of Bush’s coming visit
The history of U.S. concerning Korea began with invasions and plunder-
ings, the history of Korea against U.S. was studded with resistances. In Korea
war, the sin of your avarice, the U.S.-made bombs killed the Korean people
innumerably and miserably. We never forget even a moment the fact that we
must revenge on you. You guys have plundered the South Korea as half a
colony in many ways after you were frustrated by the North Korea in your
plan to make Korea one of your faithful colonies.
The Korean peasants, bereft of all their hope of livelihood by enforced
U.S. rice importation, are sharpening the blade of their scythes aimed at
your chests. The Korean labors, falling to the floor fatigued with the long-
hour working, bear a wish to put your heads into the press. The Korean
industrialists of small and medium-sized enterprises, deprived of means of
survival, want to burn you guys together with U.S.-made products. And
the Korean soldiers, driven to the frontline acting as buletproofs in your
futile war game, are about to fire U.S.-made M-16 rifles pointed at your
Don’t be happy with Bush’s coming! Korean people are just
waiting for Bush’s footsteps on Korea with burning hatred. He
shall not be able to stay any moment in this country and neither will you
guys. You will never sleep a wink, lying on your backs. At any time, at any
places – in your bedroom, in your car, street, lavatory and restaurant, you
will be rightly punished by our angry iron-fists. We warn you. No more
plunder! Yankees go home together with your troops. This is the only
way your safety is ensured.
Seoul. The Korean National Democratic Front.
Robert Perchan was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up there. Educated after a fashion at Duke and Ohio Universities, he taught for the U.S. Navy’s Program for Afloat College Education (PACE) on ships deployed in Rota, Spain, the Mediterranean Sea and the Western Pacific Ocean before moving, in his words, “onward and awkward.” His poems, stories and essays have appeared in scores of literary journals in the USA and abroad and a number of them have been included in anthologies published by Dell, Black Sparrow, City Lights and Global City Press. In 1991 Watermark Press (Wichita) brought out his prose poem novella Perchan’s Chorea: Eros and Exile, which was translated into French and published by Quidam Editeur (Meudon) in 2002. His poetry collection Fluid in Darkness, Frozen in Light won the 1999 Pearl Poetry Prize and was published in book form in 2000. Most recently his poetry chapbooks Mythic Instinct Afternoon and Overdressed to Kill won the 2005 Poetry West Chapbook Prize (Poetry West, Colorado Springs) and the 2005 Weldon Kees Award (Backwaters Press, Omaha) respectively. He currently resides in Pusan, South Korea. Bob's poem, "Late Blooming" appeared in Entelechy's issue 6 and his very short story "The Neoplastic Surgeon" won him first prize in Entelechy's Biofiction Contest, issue 7.
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