|10 poems from
Poems by Ko Hyeong-Ryeol
Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Hyung-Jin,
The caring eyes and dexterity
with which God first made you are clearly visible.
That skillfully folded blade of grass—
you cry in place of the grass that cannot cry.
With my eyes
I pick you up,
since you seem determined not to fly away if possible.
But then I
put you back on the original blade of grass.
Because of your cry, that leaves no trace, no matter how much you cry.
inside the fiber of the fine thread-bones of a stem of grass
all alone, I
fold and fold again with my eyes
autumn, with its lament so green.
After a quick glance,
surprised, you seem about to go flying off.
Every time my wife burst the spores of a new torso,
I had no choice but to approach my wife.
My wife was sitting quietly in the room.
In the sunlight I was completely at a loss,
went flying about hither and thither.
In a flash my wife’s tiny, fox-like face appeared in the crimson chilly air.
At the sound of my wings, the mirror vanished.
Now she wishes to become some kind of feelings.
In the ideal dream of some nameless person, eyes and nose unknown,
once again, inside my wife’s torso,
thinking of the situation of one loving rather than being loved,
I turned into a spore and crumpled up, on the verge of chuckling.
The face of my wife sitting in the room was renewed,
as if she had become some other person’s spouse.
I am circling in the air, shivering with cold.
Tonight, I’ll go out
and sleep on the beach.
With a folded blanket rolled up in a straw bag, I’ll go
and sit idle as the color of the sea,
lie stroking the noisy tongues of the local girls.
I’ll spread out the straw bag all alone, sit looking skyward, then lie down.
The beach on the other side at Gilju, with nobody in sight,
a beach like that at Sajin-ri,
where the white insulators of telephone poles go rushing like stepping-stones,
the summer morning so long and so very hot.
Abandoning the female sea, that kept clinging to my legs, I am like a beggar-child,
tomorrow morning a sea of fire greener than any mountain,
morning streets beholding then running up the Hamgyeong mountain ranges,
the sunlight soaring inside the lips of the East Sea looks so pathetic.
Will I have woken early the next day, seeing Hamgyeong mountains,
at the sound of waters that push up the sun,
on the shore of Hamgyeong province from which the mountains can be seen?
My, your, your, my children, growing like trees.
The electrician inserts a small insulator,
presses on the fragile rafter, pushes in a screw,
and turns a screwdriver.
“Psik!” the sound dropped onto my face
as I gazed up curiously.
Dry white sawdust fell.
That sawdust is the history
of my family home in a remote corner
of northern Gangwon province by the sea.
The place where sparrows used to live, breed, sleep,
and summon the morning.
A place where maggots lived even without hair.
One dark evening on a day with the spring equinox far off,
the red, white lines on the insulator were connected to one side of the kitchen,
I turned a black switch hanging in the air.
“Click!” like a flash going off,
ah, light poured out! The first new light.
I have still not forgotten
that day when I and my parents clapped our hands.
When light is too bright for my eyes I recall
that baby light in a remote village,
a dazzling light with a dangling filament,
a dimness, the eyes that dulled my hearing.
The skin of a running tiger is nothing.
The deep breast muscle between the two front legs,
the pounding heart, the flapping liver, the straining neck bone,
the powerful lung muscles gasping fit to burst,
the dappled red shoulders, the rear, with the flesh attached,
so ridiculous, like a huge bead.
The swaying brain seems about to shatter,
shaking the heavy body cruelly running at full speed,
the mind which the mosaic body is running,
the white bones looking like fists, a flower bulb like a ring,
the body full of bones like wooden pillars, planks,
the structure of a tiger racing after, pursuing its prey.
I keep looking at these creatures, for they teach about the world.
I don’t blame the editors of the National Geographic but
I have to laugh at the speed of its ashamed expression
as it tries not to run, lest its genitals sway like a pouch.
This is my only window on ‘the world.’ That beast is really utterly disgusting.
Understanding yet saying: Dirty beast! Dirty beast!
Run! Run some more! Go on, run, tiger!
Ah, tiger dragging you off and making you run, go on, run!
Pollacks equipped with strong testicles escape to the distant sea whistling. Once shepherd’s purse was sprouting in the snow below the drying-racks, when the wind blew, there was one day in February when my son and I gazed skyward then pulled down two half-dried pollacks from the drying racks, tapped heads, bodies, tails with a hammer, lit a fire of straw under the fence, cooked the two fish amidst the smoke, and ate them.
The day for him to go back to school is coming. While I happened to stare vacantly up at the sun being drawn toward snowy Mt. Seorak as if I know what today is, I look toward the sea for a while, for no reason, while all alone I gnaw at two dried pollacks I bought at the crossroads on Misiryeong after spending New Year’s Day at Sokcho, having first hit them with a stone to make them tender, and suddenly I recall my late father, who was younger than I am now when he died
Eager to be fatherly, I called my son and made him sit by me, shredded some pollack and put it in his mouth. When I smelled snow, the leaden melted snow in the place previously occupied by the gall bladder and liver of the pollack, I smelled my father. Rather than feeling sad, given the way I resembled my father even in my habit of gnawing dried pollack in early spring at fifty years of age, my son will surely resemble me.
The new month, when pollacks leave like loose teeth, as I spent the winter by the north-eastern green sea, beating the heads, grilling and eating them, in the middle of February the year’s first full moon came hastening, then my son and I like friends together grilled pollacks and greeted the spring. Nothing but my body was left, then the new February came and went, and only this poem was left like this.
I park the car by the curving roadside in Yeongdae-ri,
from where eleven o’clock lights can be seen in the distance,
open the door, get out and stand there looking at the moon
then listen to the sound of a stream.
Getting back in the car again, tonight,
I start the engine with a clinking sound like when you put
a hundred-won coin into a pay-phone to make a call,
and as my body’s two beams tonight at eleven slowly head for Misiryeong,
bending, I let all the other cars pass.
Once I reach the top of Misiryeong,
hmm, I make some noise
but my heart swells like the frightened moon at Cheonbul-dong valley
although we had no special agreement,
seeing the lights of sleeping Sokcho,
why, he’s gone, no longer here.
Must the spaces between a poem’s lines grow gray as they go?
I drink one whole bottle of water,
and I refrain from telling the air I’m lonely.
--I’ll never think of him again.
--I’ll never come back because I dislike him.
Never think that Beijing lies behind your back.
Just as that woman does not think that Tokyo
lies behind her back. Like me who
have never thought that Seoul
lies behind my back, so outside of Beijing farmers live, plants live.
Outside of Tokyo are Tokyo Bay and waves,
and behind Seoul there lies Mt. Bukhan.
You know that too. Clouds or the wind are passing there, aren’t they?
Guess what lies behind our back?
In front of our faces there is the sun, shadows, branches,
their swaying, as an endless future life
merely accompanies us, comforts us. Meanwhile
we leave briefly dried grass, a fistful of seeds,
grow gentler and gentler, then fade away.
Like Mongolian sheep that spend their lives just chewing grass,
then give their hearts, held in their master’s arms.
Try to think about it! Such are we.
There is no premier, president, prime minister behind our backs.
They are simply neighbors who once lived with us.
Making our hearts low like that road,
and thinking of places we cannot go,
I’d like to say that is our morning.
If today I think of you staying alone in Seoul,
as if it’s too far for me to go on account of the wind blowing today,
Far away I can see Beijing, Tokyo, and Seoul,
even though everyone seeks for different memories at different times.
You probably want to sleep your fill.
I want to do that now,
I don’t want to . . . .
let’s wait and do it the day after tomorrow.
Go to the top of that high mountain
then come back!
The insect shoots up and
vanishes into sunlight
that seems likely to blind it.
Unable to hold on to a single man,
unable to make one woman wait,
when I come home at night after talking too much, my tongue is worn down.
Reproaching itself in the dark gut under the duodenum,
the stone lies sick, a time for being sick with hunger, with cold,
ice, water blacks out and freezes.
--First ice is always a power that grasps and hustles my heart!
The end of foolishness and desire.
No bird perches on the branch of a desolate spirit
where an empty coat the body has cast off hangs, but roots of ice
extend up into the grain of the tree again.
Only a calcined soul stamps a leaf’s fingerprint on water.
The first ice, laid prone on the road, covered with dust, is the grief of love.
The grief of love is life’s open wound.
All went racing, dressed in morning silhouettes, toward the fallen leaves
and the roots of teeth in the unknowable darkroom
But who is breaking that thin ice, first ice?
Unable to remember how the ice first froze as a wound.
Inside the first ice,
all the ruins of first love, what follows the thaw, can be seen.