Jason Koo

Post-Honeymoon Reception

High up in the wind on my rooftop
overlooking the city, the cars nosing forward

on the BQE, the first part of my route
to work but thankfully not during the summer,

when I get paid to do nothing, essentially,
that nothing being essential to the making

of poems, that nothing essentially why I
put up with the bullshit of a job in academia,

why that bullshit is not, essentially, “bullshit,”
but a first-world problem, despite how evals

and departmental reviews can make you
feel, why when I finally met with my chair

to discuss my review there was no hostility
or confrontation, no calling out of all

the unspoken, no pointing out the herd
of white elephants in the room, because

honestly I was fine with it, fine with her,
I felt like she did actually care about me

and my place in the department, I didn’t think
anyone was trying to screw me, maybe

I was stupid or naïve to feel that, maybe
(as I did feel, for a moment) I was being

too much of a model minority, simply
going and getting along with authority,

accepting my place, at times helping her
navigate the awkwardness of the conversation

by saying I didn’t think I was really eligible
for promotion anyway, this only being

my fourth year, how next time, knowing
my situation better and what was expected

of me, I would have a much better chance
at it, then turning the conversation

to her brother, whom I knew through
the swing dance community in New York

but didn’t realize was her brother until
a few days before, when he emailed to say

that his older sister worked in the English
department at my school and did I know her?

This email coming out of an exchange
in which I sent him condolences on the death

of his mother and younger sister—how
could I confront her angrily about the denial

of my promotion now? I felt I should be
the one consoling her, so that’s what I did,

and we left the conversation with a feeling,
I think, of collegial warmth, and when I saw

my colleagues at the department retreat,
everything was fine, we joked and had a good time

together, I didn’t think about how anybody
had voted no for my promotion, they were all

just good people with their own problems
who probably weren’t thinking of me much,

I was looking forward to the summer, dancing
and drinking and going to the beach with Ana,

writing and reading whatever I wanted,
whenever I wanted, making my own days,

as Frank O’Hara would say, and I’ve had
a great summer so far, my best in years,

perhaps ever, Ana is the perfect companion
for these summer days, we’ve danced

aloft on the Intrepid and in Bryant Park,
we’ve tanned on my roof and taken trips

to so many beaches, but now I’m thinking
as with my department I’ve been duped a little,

underneath all the ease of our sex and fun
there was no thought of commitment

on her part, as she made clear last night
when we got into our first fight after

an evening at the Racquet & Tennis Club
on Park Avenue for my friend Red’s

post-honeymoon wedding reception, there
was some tension already on the way there

when she told me she was going home
after the party (not with me) because

she still wasn’t feeling 100% after the night
before, when she’d gotten way too drunk

with her friend while I watched the Cavs
blow Game 4 of the Finals, and I was annoyed

because I already hadn’t spent the day with her
after driving to her place and sleeping over

after the game, as she wanted to be alone
while feeling sick, and I was thinking she knew

she was going to this party with me so
why did she drink so much the night before?

Then at the party, as you’d expect surrounded
by so many status-obsessed married couples,

we were asked if Ana was a girlfriend
or wife, and given only the two choices

I had to say Uh, girlfriend? looking at her
awkwardly, as we’d never used that term before,

and while I don’t really care about titles
I was curious to see how Ana would react,

it would say a lot about her commitment
to me, how she viewed this relationship,

whether she even viewed it as a relationship
at all, and she joked to me privately, Girlfriend?

That’s just too much, so I asked her
what term she preferred then, partner?

and she said, How about girl that I’m fucking,
and while I would’ve appreciated that wit

from any of the casual partners I’ve had
over the last two years, it seemed surprisingly

flip for the first person I’ve decided to date
exclusively since my ex. But I shrugged it off,

we got more drinks and the New York night
held sway, I saw several friends from high school

I hadn’t seen in a long time, including
Viswam, who lived across the street from me

when we were growing up, my one-on-one
adversary in basketball and tennisball

(baseball with a tennis ball), now a doctor
and married to a Japanese woman, living

in California, we posed for several pictures
I joked would be used for the club’s brochure

demonstrating diversity, there was an ease
to the night and a surprising fun about it

in seeing this old friend I hadn’t seen,
as he reminded me, in over twenty years,

who elegantly recounted our years growing up
for Ana and his wife, as well as his own

biography since our paths had diverged,
amplifying our majesty, saying I used to throw

this curveball I’d always strike him out with
(not really true) then come up against him

and thwack every pitch out of our makeshift
park, I appreciated this buffering of the legend

of my youth, listening to him recall how while
he and all our friends would go out in high school,

I’d stay home reading Anna Karenina, how
one night they came home late and he pointed

at the light in my bedroom window and said,
That dude is up there reading Tolstoy.

Great story, but I didn’t read Tolstoy
until the summer after my junior year of college,

taking the book on the RTA to and from
the law office in downtown Cleveland where I had

a meaningless unpaid internship for two weeks
(set up by my parents) before going off

to study in Paris for five weeks, I remember
this time exactly because of how the train

was a perfect setting for reading Anna Karenina
(as the teacher who’d recommended the book

told me) and because my boss loved the great
Russian writers and took an interest in my interest

in Russian literature, seemingly enjoying
talking to me about Anna Karenina more

than doing his job, whatever that was, telling me
how much he loved France when I told him

I was going there, saying, somewhat cutely,
I’m a Francophile, taking so much pride in that

but saying it in such a way that I understood
he didn’t talk to other people about these things,

he talked to me about literature like he hadn’t
talked about it since he was in college, when

he probably didn’t care about titles, and now
he was in a life with a title and a wife, holding on

to “I’m a Francophile” as a way out, but
just giving himself another title, as Viswam

succinctly summarized how he’d gone to Penn
then Stanford medical school then started

doing a certain kind of impressive research
I can’t recall because I started tuning out

at that point, I remember better the feeling
that he’d probably had practice delivering

this sentence hundreds of times at parties
exactly like this one, where everyone circle

jerks to their own titles, but I didn’t
resent him for it, I found it endearing,

how he even had to buffer my own bio
for the benefit of his own, making me more

precocious in my reading and athletic
prowess, and no matter how many times

I objected to his dating of when I read
Anna Karenina, he refused to believe me.

So I just went along with it, a little bell rang
like the one that rings before an opera resumes

after intermission, we all moved into another
room for dinner, where we saw an impressive

dance floor with a live band playing soul
tunes underneath soft Japanese lighting,

hundreds of books on sports lining high walls,
we got into a long line to help ourselves

to a buffet of oysters and shrimp and roast beef
and even “vegan” pasta, which we learned

from Red before dinner would be there,
he himself was “vegan,” as Viswam told us

when I told him Ana was vegan and was worried
that dinner, like most fancy ones, would be

just some kind of meat, though Red ate seafood
and was thus not vegan at all, Viswam again

buffering a friend’s bio to make him sound
more interesting: in any case, “vegan”

enough for Ana’s purposes, she loaded up
on pasta and salad and we sat down

with two couples in love with their own lives,
or the image of their lives, who thankfully

did not ask us if we were married because
I’m pretty sure, as I whispered to Ana, they’d

glanced at our hands when we sat down,
sizing us up, and I wondered if any of them

were secretly jealous of us, our supposed
freedom, though for once in my life I wanted

to be married just like them, or not like them
but married to this breathtaking woman next to me

whom I adored, trusted and was proud of,
who knew how much bullshit was in the room

but was enjoying the evening just the same,
remarking on the beauty of being surrounded

by books, saying, You should get married
here, which is when I realized she was not

on the same wavelength at all. She was enjoying
her freedom and didn’t see me as someone

she would marry, seeing me as more like
the people in the room than like her,

and once again I saw the farce of it all,
the lavish opera I wasn’t watching ironically

but was actually a part of, she the greater
ironist, distant from these shenanigans,

putting them on briefly for the experience,
the role-playing pleasure, just as she put on

my body for a while when we fucked,
how did she see me, then, as just a good lay?

a summer fling? someone to satisfy her
for the time being in America until she went

back to her “ex” in Brasil? I tagged her
on Facebook in a couple of photos we took

on the Intrepid and she texted me to take
them down, saying people (her family?

her ex?) had already asked her about them,
she wanted to respect her “ex,” using quotes

around that term for the first time, and I saw
how she kept her life on hold there, didn’t

include me in it for her friends, family and ex
in Brasil to see, which is not a big deal

but becomes bigger the more these worlds
get separated, the more intimacy we develop

that is not integrated with her past life,
and I see this but she doesn’t, she sees it

as being private but I see my deletion there,
just as when we left the party and walked back

to my car and talked about fucking without
a condom and she joked, If you ever get me

pregnant, you’re paying for the abortion,
without even considering the possibility

of having a child with me, and though I
certainly don’t want to get her pregnant now

I found myself getting offended again
at how flip she was being about any future

with me, I said to her, You seem not even
to have entertained the possibility of being

with me, starting a family, and she said,
I don’t know what you want from me, I can’t

give you that, I don’t know where I’ll be
next year, but she seemed so maddeningly

certain about her uncertainty, nothing at all
was defined in her life at the moment

or in the future yet she seemed certain
it wouldn’t involve being serious with me.

How could she see that? How could she
know? We sat in my car parked outside

her apartment in Harlem, arguing quietly
side by side, looking straight ahead.


Jason Koo is a second-generation Korean American poet, educator, editor and nonprofit director. He is the author of four full-length collections of poetry: No Rest, a winner of the Diode Editions Book Contest, More Than Mere Light, America's Favorite Poem and Man on Extremely Small Island. His work has been published in Best American Poetry 2022, Missouri Review, Poetry Northwest, Village Voice and Yale Review, among other places, and won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Vermont Studio Center and New York State Writers Institute. He is an associate teaching professor of English and the director of creative writing at Quinnipiac University and the founder and executive director of Brooklyn Poets.