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Intangible Mandu

February 1, 2012

[The following poem, called “Intangible Mandu”, is something that I’ve wanted to write for the last several months. About a week ago I finally got it done. I hope it makes you smile, and maybe gives you a taste of something… Enjoy!] 🙂

 
The night when I tasted the most profound thing in the universe
started with me,
and a philosopher
and a food critic
in lonely South Korea.

Late at night, while lost in Seoul,
we stumbled into a mandu place
that I have been unable to find since,
despite my constant searching.

Mandu, the food critic explained, is a Korean style dumpling dish
that is known for being incredibly bland and ordinary,
with nothing new to offer the culinary world,
since it was created hundreds of years ago.

It was in the face of such mundanity
(and such expectations)
that I got my first taste.

They came out on a little hot plate, with metal chopsticks
and a bottle of soju, the Korean alcoholic drink of choice,
that tastes like sour sadness.

A country’s cuisine, the philosopher explained,
while gesturing with the soju bottle,
reflects a kind of shared experience, a history,
and the secret pulse of all the humans that have tasted it.

I rolled my eyes,
poured the philosopher his first drink,
knocked back my own Soju shot,
and popped the mandu in my mouth.

For the first bite, it tasted a little overcooked,
a little mushy,
then a chill ran down my shoulders…

All of reality stabbed its way through my neurons
in a single sweaty instant
that shook my vision
and tensed every muscle in my body at once.

The food critic was saying something about how “proletariat” the mandu was
and the philosopher was downing his fifth shot,
so neither one of them saw my pupils dilate
as the esoteric flavor of life itself ran over my tongue.

I tried to say “that mandu was good”,
but it came out as
“That mandu was God”,
which made the food critic laugh,
and the philosopher stare at me, as if he knew EXACTLY
what I was talking about.

He swallowed his sixth soju shot, and explained that
all of Korea, and in fact, hints of all human experience
can be ever so slightly tasted
in the fermented flavor of complex kimchi,
the traditionally mushy mandu,
and the strong sadness of soju.

I greedily ate another
and another,
but they tasted just like dull dumplings,
with no secrets to show me.

The food critic spat his out
and left in disgust,
slamming the door behind him,
right as the philosopher downed his tenth shot
and passed out right there,
falling out his chair,
and leaving me to pay the bill.

I asked for one more plate.
I wanted mul mandu
(dumplings filled with water)
truly the blandest and most flavorless thing I could order.

In my last piece of mandu,
which was a little mushy,
I tasted everything,
simultaneously.

My taste buds flitted through all of history.
I’m pretty sure I tasted dinosaurs,
before moving to all the more complicated emotions,
the tang of doubt, the spice of discomfort,
the cold burn of melancholy…

Then, things between the mushy mul mandu and I got weird.

I tasted myself,
my essence, reflected back at me,
in a moment of strangely beautiful
etherial self-cannibalism.

I woke up in the hospital
with a soju hangover
no money,
and wordless memories
of intangible mandu.

In a desperate attempt to replicate the sublime,
I always try to find that place….

Over and over again,
I’ll wander into a mandu place, drink some soju sadness,
and always be disappointed to discover
only the current
mushy
moment.

 

 

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