|10 poems from
A Black Kite
Selected poems of Kim Jong-Gil
Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Kim Jong-Gil
I cross the rapids,
following the uphill road
on the first day of school
having spent the summer
without even once having
the water in the rapids touch me,
leaving the street,
hot as a sandbank,
as I cross September air currents the hue of balloon flowers
shoals of silvery minnows
sparkling like shoals of silvery minnows
the songs of morning insects in the grass . . .
Beside a glowing charcoal fire
in a dark room, all alone,
my elderly grandmother
was keeping watch over a pitifully fading young life.
At last Father returned home through the snow
Ah, those red cornelian cherries
Father had picked after plowing through the snow . . .
I was a baby animal,
my fever-flushed cheeks being silently rubbed
with the cool hem of young Father’s coat.
From time to time snow beat at the back door.
I have a feeling that that evening was Christmas Eve.
And suddenly I have reached the age
my father was then.
That being something irrecoverable from long ago, in a town
with Christmas drawing near
those welcome memories from the past come dropping down.
If I suddenly feel Father’s cool coat hem
on my sorrowful thirty-year-old brow
is that because the red cornelian cherries picked in the snow
are still flowing, melted, in my blood?
The sun comes and goes
in the constant cold,
but the new year has somehow to be greeted warmly.
Below the ice, fish are still breathing
and green water parsley buds
are dreaming of spring days.
The new year has to be greeted with endurance
and with a little dreaming.
I spent yhis morning
before a glass of warm liquor
and a bowl of soup,
so I should think that is plenty
and feel grateful.
is rough and cruel
but still it’s worth living in;
we should think about being better and wiser
since today we are one year older.
Though one year goes
in the bitter cold
and another comes,
just as we see pretty teeth emerging
through the gums of babies,
so we should welcome the new year.
The womens’ university had cream-colored buildings.
The mud stuck to the soles of shoes did not fall off readily.
The end of the suitably gasping hill path
was a greenish barley field . . . .
There was a sound of a white tennis ball bouncing somewhere.
It was too early for cuckoos to be singing
but up on the hill
newly entering students were chattering like skylarks.
The seasons are always guests ushered in by rain . . . .
it may be a ruddy-cheeked boy, a sunburned youth,
someone middle-aged mined by melancholy,
or a grizzle-browed old man,
but it is always the same guest, not a different one,
Beyond the bead curtain of raindrops hanging from the eaves
how many time have I welcomed that guest?
This middle-aged traveler mined by melancholy—
what ushered him in previously,
as a ruddy-cheeked boy, a sunburned youth
lingering beneath some house’s eaves?
If chill autumn rain drizzles down hastily,
one day white snow flurries will sprinkle the brow!
Now, just like that ruddy-cheeked boy lingering
beyond the bead-curtain of rain-drops,
will this traveler never again flush with childlike cheeks
and linger one day outside some window?
For Mount Pukhan
to recover its full height,
we have to wait till winter comes.
We have to wait
till a winter morning dawns after a night of snow
when only such high peaks as Paegundae or Insubong stand
covered with light snow as if with thin makeup,
while the rest of the mountain remains the colour
of cold Indian ink.
For Mount Pukhan to recover
its lonely height which does not reveal itself
in the fresh green or the turning of leaves,
or in the fog rising along the valleys,
not even when deep snow covers the whole mountain,
but is diminished even at the touch of a rosy sunbeam,
we have to wait till a winter morning dawns
when only Paegundae and Insubong stand
covered with light snow.
Mist is flowing irregularly
over the afternoon’s Ant-Back Ridge.
If we choose a patch of grass and sit down,
it is bound to hold prickly thistles; in the mist a few cows
are looking at us with docile faces like the Holy Family.
In Jeju City oleaders were blooming heatedly
near the mountaintop a late autumn wind is rising.
Burying the setting sun on the stone walls of toothbrush-like Crown Peak,
darkness buries Yongjingak Valley.
On Mount Halla in July
the streams and the chirping of insects are merely chill.
Baekrok Lake where it seems a lost calf fell in and drowned
the morning of fearfully blue waves,
walking on round the crater, as we turn toward Seoguipo,
a suddenly rushing sea breeze
comes twisting white round the gaunt stone pillars of the south face.
Not mist, now, but clouds.
Blooming in those clouds, beds of mountain flowers,
and over them a flock of yellow butterflies is turning.
You were on the tall side, weren’t you?
Your posture was always bolt upright, wasn’t it?
I set about grading the end-of-term exam papers
after having seen your name and photo
in a newspaper article about a bus accident.
On the report card you would never see
I copied, writing clearly,
a grade just short of 90 points.
As I looked round the memorial exhibition prepared by your comrades
I realized how much you had also grown up in poetry.
“In an August garden” where you said “roses are lighting lamps”
you stand, tall and upright.
One woman among those graduating,
you said, “I often read my palm,”
and now you stand there alone as ever.
The name means a stream flows round the village
and today still that stream is flowing.
Has time too just gone on flowing away like the stream?
No. No, it’s piled on the mossy tiles of the old houses
and today after the summer rain is drying in the hot sunlight.
And it is growing in the shiny leaves of a mulberry tree
on the site of a demolished house,
reviving in the coughing of the elderly grandson at Yangjindang.
In the green quinces on the few trees
in the back garden of Chunghyodang, the former home of Master Seoae,
and on the site where an exhibition hall is being built
at the expense of the Office of Cultural Properties,
it is being reconstituted.
Today in this inland city,
famed for its heat,
under the influence of a typhoon
cool breezes have been blowing all day.
It has been a week since I heard of a friend’s death
and as I walk along this street again,
the chaos of Chuseok having passed,
that friend is walking with me.
I feel that occasionally his fearfully broad shoulders
strike against mine.
His lifetime, just forty-seven years,
was like this city’s sultry heat.
Still, what can be the reason why his life, which was not long,
but was particularly full of hardships and pain,
feels to those of us who were close to him
like today’s weather, with cool breezes blowing?
The main street of this city with its million and more inhabitants
today seems quite empty,
while we who are walking along are somehow feckless like the breeze.
Yet, as we talk about him,
we sometimes laugh.
He grew increasingly gaunt
then as the heat he had to endure at the end was decreasing
his life, too, ended.
This inland city which he has left for ever,
the familiar northern hills veiled in clouds . . . .
this year the autumn chill seems to have arrived particularly early.