The Schooner

Farther inside this long bar near Lake and Hiawatha, they burn
Over beers in the dark, these men and two women, creaking
Fatigue on stools, dead drunk. It is summer. The sun a cancer.
The God of Silence today has called a quorum of minor gods who have created
And destroyed whole voices and lives. Where else to go
If all you want is to drink to the sound of clearing throats?

The verdict is in. Men of Hope shall be resigned to steal quiet turns vomiting.
Stunned prairie horse spirits surviving civilization.
Some come with money to grin through a second happy hour.
Others doze after one shot like a bullet from behind. Teetering
Faded tattoos over silver threads of drool. The bartender
Collects a pile of quarters and dimes, picks out the lint.
Sally, an old white lady with a pink mohawk, cackles. Sometimes
Life splatters like an artist with no training or vision.


Imagine stick figures walking through a world of rich, seeping colors.
Smiling, they inhabit donated, baggy denim and flannel. One fermenting soul gets stabbed
For singing another’s karaoke song. One human being in red sparkly pumps
Gets attacked then imprisoned for being too male or female for another’s liking.
Meth once in the popcorn machine. Pull tabs rigged. Meat raffle rigged.
Every bar at 3 pm is a ship just after the storm.
You’re alive is enough cause for celebration!


I could tell you I drank there because
The attic I lived in had no air-conditioner. I could say
It was a period when I was unemployed; or lived only two blocks away; my father took his life;
I just liked fruit flies. I remember a novel-in-progress about space garbage.
And on the 4th of July and Super Sunday, they put out celery and pizzas for free
On the duct-taped pinball machine.

But, really, it was the water lilies—how they’d reappear and disappear
In the stiff, late-night breeze, buzzing
Above crushed cans and condoms in wet leaves, on each slow stumble home.
One, a fuzzy planet. Another, a troubled century.
A third, just a lazy-eyed junkie on the block named LeNay.


A man steps into a bar, takes a seat between an old Norwegian, a Somali,
And an Indian. There is no punch line.
Instead, it’s like anti-church. Or descending the Grand Canyon.
Only at bedrock, can you look up
And witness all the lavish gradations of loss. The world
Is full of missionaries. Only the Angel of Death
Can kiss and hand you the knife
You’ll need to carve out your own capacity to be happy.

So I did.

Ed Bok Lee is the author of Whorled, winner of an American Book Award and a Minnesota Book Award, and Real Karaoke People, winner of a PEN/Open Book Award. Lee is the son of Korean immigrants—his mother originally from what is now North Korea, his father from South Korea. "The Schooner” was sonically (only) inspired by found-text (in Swedish, which Lee does not know) in an unpublished diary by Swedish immigrant, Mathilda Benson, whose journal from over a century ago is one of thousands of documents archived at the American Swedish Institute. For more information on Lee’s Metatranslations Project, please visit: Metatranslations: Ed Bok Lee'sIntervention in ASI's Library & Archives | American Swedish Institute

Bön by Mathilda Benson (ca. 1910s)

Fader, du som ser ifrån det höga Lyssna till den bön jag ber idag. Låt ditt hulda, milda faders öga Hvila på ditt barn med välbehag Hör den suck som från mitt hjärta stiger Gif den kraft att tränga fram till dig Att jag frambär, intet jag förtiger Du, blatt du, kan se och hjelpa mig.

Jag ovärdig är och mycket inga Men mitt hopp det står till dig min Gud Låt ej ohörd denna bön förklinga Lär mig tåligt lyda dina bud. Du, blott du, förstår mitt arma hjärta Du kan stilla blott dess vilda hjärtaslag Blif mig när i glädje, so i smärta Fader stöd mig! Ty jag är så svag.