Poem for My Twentieth Birthday
Passing the American graveyard, for my birthday
the crosses stuttering, white on tropical green,
the years’ quick focus of faces I do not remember . . .
The palm trees stalking like deliberate giants
for my birthday, and all the hot adolescent memories
seen through a screen of water . . .
For my birthday thrust into the adult and actual:
expected to perform the action, not to ponder
the reality beyond the fact,
the man standing upright in the dream.
Kenneth Koch, “Poem for My Twentieth Birthday” from Poetry 67 (November 1945)
I celebrated my 20th birthday in San Francisco. It was a good place to be in 1987. Clean and well lighted....not really. I was about nine months into my stay at the Defense Language Institute. We were one of the senior classes at this time. They started about ten classes a year. We were the seventh Korean class of 1986 hence our moniker : KP0786. I dont actually recall what I did that night. Probably spent it a homey little place that served us, The Black Fox on Geary St near 17th. Somewhere in between The Nag's Head and The 7/11. Much of our time was spent in that bar.
My 21st birthday I celebrated on a very cold hill in the northern part of South Korea. My team leader sent me down to a store at the bottom of the hill to buy some soju and Pepsi. It was a good birthday. I find it hard to believe twenty years have passed since then.