Jason Koo

2046 Love Songs of Wong Kar Wai


          I once fell in love with someone.
     After a while, she wasn’t there.
                    I wonder what I could have done differently,
               what sequence of moments
                              could have led to her

               standing here before me
     instead of vanishing. What one thing
          to put in front of another
                              in time? What passion,
                     what restraint, what silence, what word, what self, what

          effacement? Every time we tried,
                    I took a misstep somewhere. Yes, she hurt me,
               but if I had led her
     this way instead of, with just the right
                              poise—would she have turned?

               If you take the right steps,
          a voice tells me, the whole dance will
                              open up to you.
                    This keeps me coming back to her in my mind.
     If I could right the wrong steps, open

                         up a new sequence . . .
                    But each new one is already scored and cross-
     hatched with all the old mistakes, making
          it even more difficult to
               navigate. Sometimes I

                              think love shouldn’t be
               this difficult: two people are
               involved, there should be room
     for error, interplay between them,
                    one person should not have to do all the work

     of leading. Sometimes I think love is
          all a matter of timing: it’s
                    no use meeting the right person at the wrong
               time, maybe I met her
                              at a time when no

     right steps even existed. But these
                    sound like excuses. If a woman loves you,
               and you love her, and you
          fall apart, let’s face it, you failed
                              her. The man should take

          It’s childish to blame her, to
                    absolve yourself by saying she made it too
                              hard, requiring
     you to be perfect; you were going

          for immortality, of course
                    you had to be perfect! The poet does not
     blame his poem if it doesn’t turn
                         out right. It may be
               we are all tragically

                    in time, that no single sequence can save us,
          but I persist in the belief,
               perhaps to my demise,
     that all can be won through mastery
                              of performance: time

          can be conquered by consciousness.


               And yet the cost of such
                    consciousness—a disinterest so powerful
                              as to appear cruel.
     Chow leans back with a puckish smile

          against his wall, stranding Bai Ling
                    in the middle of his room as she coaxes
     her fledgling declaration out of
               its nest. I don’t care if
                              you love me or not.

               I’ll love you anyway.
                    He snaps smoke in through his nose, coolly whistles
          it out. Since we got together,
     I haven’t brought other men back. I
                              hoped you’d feel the same.

               Will you promise me that?
                              —No. The grin again,
          slowly fading as he looks up
     and meets her expression: he knows that
                    vulnerability. How did he get here,

                              aloof from all that?
     He feels a sudden falling, a drop
                    to the past person inside of him, but he’s
               worked too long to secure
          this hard housing in the present

               to suffer a collapse
                              now. How many nights
     has he spent turning in on himself
          in the same knife-peel of anguish
                    he sees working at her face, eyes loosening,

               mind bereft, a blown field
                    completely at the mercy of the hours?
          A single god presides over
                              that field, indifferent.
     He knows how brutal that god can seem,

          how criminal it feels to have
                              a single visage
     colonize your consciousness, but with
                    the slightest slip into sympathy, he knows
               he soon could find himself

                              in her place. So he
     holds his position, telling himself
               he never meant to hurt
                    her—she’s just an unfortunate casual-
          ty of this discipline—but he

               can’t help but feel a slight
          satisfaction at maintaining
                    the upper hand, which shows him his disinterest
                              is not yet complete,
     that he’s still taking some subtle form

               of vengeance on the past.
     And when she screams and storms out, the way
                              her glare glazes him
                    inhuman makes him think perhaps disinterest
          should be left to the gods, because

                    its human form always takes on an aspect
          of cruelty, as now he pulls
                              her back by the arm
     and grins: If you’re ever in the mood,
               feel free to come over.


          I once fell in love with someone.
     I couldn’t stop wondering whether
                    she loved me or not. I found an android which
               looked just like her. I thought
                              the android might give

               me the answer. At first
          it seemed everything had worked out
                    for the best: M-2046 was just as
                              beautiful as N,
     if not more so, because she had all

                    the same physical features with none of the
          imperfections. I thought I loved
               those imperfections, but
     one can get used to pristine android
                              skin pretty quick. Plus

     M had no emotional baggage.
                    She was so dependable! If I called her,
               she was there, no drama.
          People used to say I was in
                              love with drama, but

          I always thought this was stupid:
                              I loved N in spite
     of her drama, not because of it.
                    The drama was what drove me crazy; did I
               love being crazy? No.

               Still, I couldn’t get past
          a certain barrier with M.
                              She was wonderful
                    in all the ways N wasn’t: sitting with me
     through the long afternoons on the train

               reading, having coffee;
                    taking walks with me through the corridors to
          watch the windowed whir of the world
                              go by; stopping to
     hug me in all the cold passages;

                              nestling up to me
          in the cinema cabin—just
               the feel of her doing
     things with me filled me with such well-be-
                    ing that I saw how much of a hole my love

          had become. Yet some part of her
                    was unreachable in a way N never
     was. She wouldn’t give in to passion:
               if I tried to kiss her,
                              she’d accept my mouth

     briefly the way a secretary
                    might accept a memo. Totaling up all
               our kisses, our fragments
          of flame, as I liked to call them,
                              I’d say they equaled

               one semi-okay kiss.
                    Nothing like the nova of a kiss with N.
          There was no tongue, no saliva;
                              I became obsessed
     with android saliva—what did it

               taste like? Her tongue—was it
                    rough or smooth? What was her hidden malfunction?
          Why wouldn’t she give herself to
     me? I lay next to her in her cool
                              grey satellite dish

                    of a bed thinking, This is even weirder
          than my last relationship. And
                              soon I found myself
     making all my old mistakes. When I
               pressed her, asking her how

                              she felt, she stiffened
     like a table lamp. It didn’t help
               that the same parts used to
                    make her head and neck were actually used
          to make table lamps. I began

          to long for all the things in N
                    I used to hate, the wild emotional
               fluctuations, the sad
     apologetic emails always
                              a little too late,

     her “unintentional” cruelties;
          because I saw, through the contrast
                    with M, how these could be proofs of her love for
               me, which was comforting
                              and damning at once.


     I slowly began to doubt myself.

                              Maybe it was me,
                    maybe I was nuts. What was likelier, that
          all the pain she brought was love or
               not love?
                              Love is not love,

          I said to myself, collapsing
     the sonnet.
                    I read to pass the time

                    but really time read me, flattening open
                              the page of my face,

               picking my meaning a-

                         When had I boarded
                    this train, why was I always staring at this
                    Talking to myself. Counting.

                              I read of Unsang
     Institute on Mt. Jiri, where old
                              Okbogo enrolled
          to study the geomungo.

                    I swallowed my heart, an unsung institute.

               O Okbogo geo-
     mungo, I mumbled, geobogo,

          mungnasium, geranium,
     giraffe, waiting is like a giraffe,
                              long in the middle.

                    “The giraffe is deer-bodied, cow-tailed, wolf-browed,
               horse-hoofed, and grows one horn-

               shaped clump of flesh without
                              I liked this sentence, all its mad hyphen-
                    My love was cow-browed, wolf-
                              hoofed, horse-horned, and chewed
     my heart like one deer-shaped clump of flesh

                              with small bones.
                                                            Chomp, chomp.

               I read, “We could just be
                    a simple, direct and straightforward person.
          Form a simple relationship
     with our world, our coffee, spouse, and friend.

          We do this by abandoning
                    our expectations about how we think things
               should be.” I had no world,
                              no spouse, no friend, so
     I looked in prayer to my coffee.

               Oh ma ni es press oh.

                    What did I expect my coffee to be? It
                              gaped back pleasantly.

     I remembered sitting with her once,
          reading the back of my coffee

                    cup because I couldn’t bear to read her face
          and feeling all too much kinship

                              with the description
               of this bean: “Dark, nearly
     black in color, Espresso Roast flirts

          on the border of ruin.” I
     swallowed my heart, an Espresso Roast
               coffee bean. A giraffe
                    was my esophagus, and the swallowing
                              was slow.


                                             It begins
                    as a dance of detachment, the man leaning
          in to whisper along her neck,
     the woman freezing, wanting and not
               wanting his lips to con-

          tinue against her flesh, the man
     pulling away now with a little
                              smirk, saying, I’ll leave
, withdrawing where most
                    men would have pressed their brief advantage and been

          rebuffed. And so the posing, the
                    distancing, the woman laughing a little
               too loudly on the phone,
                              the man parading
     a sequence of women back to his

                    room, both spying through eyeholes, windowslits, pricked
                              for a certain set
     of heels on the floor, until chance (which
               the man had secretly
          been courting) brings them together

     in the hotel hall on Christmas Eve
                    where, sensing his opportunity, the man
               suggests they have dinner
                              to keep each other
          company. And then there are names,

     pasts. But Chow keeps this information
               at bay, trying to steer
                    the interaction methodically toward sex;
          with one as guarded, as practiced
                              as Bai Ling, he knows

          their coming together must seem
     spontaneous, inevitable,
               or she won’t go for it.
                    Under the lightest pressure (Another drink
                              someplace else?
), she backs

               off, smelling his intent;
                              so, deftly, he backs
                    off, saying he just wants to be “drinking pals.”
     Years later, he’ll use this phrase to clench
          their relationship (Of course you

                    missed me, we’re drinking pals) as she tries to pry
               it for meaning, flicking
                              a finger against
     her glass; and she’ll wonder how she once
          took comfort in this, how once she

                              wanted so little
                    of him—why did she ever start to want more?
     What filled this frame with her whole future?
               I wish it could have gone
          on a little longer
, she’ll say,

                              softly, trying to
                    get back to this place of poise, this last platform
     of sanity before everything
          started sliding away from her,
               as if sped from a train . . .

               And of course he’ll hear her,
     but ignore her cheerfully, almost—
                    this is what she can’t understand—kindly, as
          if it were tenderness to show
                              her she meant nothing.

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