Cathy Park Hong on "A Little Tête-à-tête"
A Little Tête-à-tête
Coleridge, it is me, your affectionate friend!
Might I interrupt you from your compositions, for a little tête-à-tête,
lure you even, to a tee-off on our emerald
swath of watered, manicured sward?
We have shattered new frontiers with our 14 golf courses.
A dexterous harmony of manmade & natural hazards,
Fairway glades surrounded by shimmering leafwhelmed mountains
of tinted Tallow Trees, pars graced with stately stemmed flame
throated birds-of-paradise & dewed
& vigilantly raked sand bunkers, so many in one par,
this sand cratered par looks hauntingly extra-terrestrial.
We have a 150 yard beach bunker—sand imported from
the sucrose beaches of the Caribbean!
There are manmade lakes, the water dyed a cool, hushed slate,
pocked with waterfowls & verdant hillocks of island green & a putting
green mown to velvet uniformity.
This will be the world's premier tournament venue,
Already visited by Nick Faldo (I have seen a wax likeness of him
at your homeland's Madame Tussaud's), Annika Sorenstam,
& of course, the Great Tiger Woods.
You may notice an absence of golf carts,
but we are currently waiting for the newest generation
of multiple passenger rough terrain utility vehicles,
which should arrive next month.
Our temporary solution to this lack is an entrusted,
well-trained army of caddies.
That there, the compact little man in the plaid culottes is Xiao.
Oh, he's not scowling at you, he's scowling at me but he doesn't know
that I know this: Pig! Better not stir shit up! I'm watching you!
You must excuse caddies for of course,
they are prone to human error.
Dash off? Why must you dash off?
To dash down what you just dreamed? But my friend,
I've already dreamed up this Xanadu,
a mere 40 miles from Shangdu, with the profits of my lint rollers
& rolls of polysynthetic fur! Oh, I see: every second
you stall until you write your Opiate dream down,
your lush Elysian visions will escape your grasp,
& your verse will finish leadenly.
Allow me to wipe the crusted sleep from your eyes with my thumbs.
When I was a child, I had untreated pink eye & my ma
used to wipe the mucus tearing from my eyes, while she smoked her
endless cigarettes to calm the parasites in her stomach.
Outside the perimeters of Shangdu, we have a row
of Country Housing Garden estates. My little girl lives
in one of these houses, wishing to be a poet like you.
Will you go & tutor her? I will pay you handsomely.
I always tell her, you must practice everyday.
She practices, everyday.
About the Poem
This poem is a direct response to the introduction of Coleridge's "Xanadu-Kubla Khan" in which he explains that a most unwelcome visitor from Porlock disturbed his "anodyne" vision and ruined his inspiration for his poem.I was always fascinated with this poem: who was this friend? What business was Coleridge called to? Is this some kind of elaborate fictional ruse to disguise the fact that he just ran out of steam? Tête-à-tête is written from the intrusive visitor's point of view, right at that moment when he wakes Coleridge from his delicious reverie. In my re-imagination, this friend is a meddling, self-promoting entrepreneur who has just invested in the world's largest golf course located in Shangdu – a city based on many of China's industrial boomtowns. This entrepreneur eagerly wants to give Coleridge a tour of the newly opened grounds. My father is an avid golfer so it wasn't too far-fetched for me to use golf as a subject but since I haven't whacked any balls for a good long time, much of the information you read is based on internet research which I rarely use for poetic material. I found it to be a rich source for inspiration: for instance, while I was searching for golf tournament venues, I discovered that there is a Nick Faldo wax reproduction at London's Madame Tussaud's and learned quite a bit on golf-landscaping, including the dizzying varieties of sand bunkers and water hazards. Lastly, Xiao who appears in the poem is loosely based on Lucky from Beckett's"Waiting for Godot."
* * * Poem copyright © Cathy Park Hong. All rights reserved.
Originally published in Parnassus. Reprinted with the
permission of the author.