|10 poems from
Munui (Patterns, 1994)
By Lee Si-Young
Translated by Brother Anthony and Yu Hui-Seok
Spirit of a waterfall frozen hard in a deep mountain valley,
stay there until next spring comes,
until another breath comes and melts you.
Minus twenty, the temperature outside,
and when I got up after sleeping
a baby squirrel was pressed against the windowpane
staring up at me with bright eyes.
Ah, those two eyes!
Those eyes the most beautiful person in the world
closed at the very end, on departing!
The moment I opened the window, that little squirrel
raised its silvery tail in a flash
and casually vanished into the morning sunlight that had just begun to spread.
A loud crack rang out,
I went hurrying down the wintery woodland path
and from its end saw the red tail lights of a car vanishing
while there, on the snow, lay a few drops of blood
of a mother sparrow, baby sparrow
who had just before caught the morning sunbeams in its beak,
a few drops of warm blood.
The trees standing on the darkening cliffs are not lonely.
For with arms outstretched the unseen powers of the ridges
are holding them in a tight embrace
in the direction the wind is blowing.
This morning the sound of migratory birds
busily shaking water from their plumage echoes from the moist river.
It looks as though spring is about to leap coldly down
treading on their impatient brows.
Although we have never been back since growing up, surely
we all have places the heart hurries towards,
switching on the light and waiting? For me, it’s some tiny stops
on the single-track Jeolla railway: Jusaeng, Ongjeong, Geumji.
Was it in the early evening? Or in broad daylight?
Trains from Osu, Seodo, Namwon, emerging from the ravine,
finally encountering open countryside, rocking lightly,
whistled brightly, puffed out pitch black coal smoke,
and I experienced dramatic moments as the overwhelming stillness
was transformed into liveliness.
The fields, that had been prostrate as if with nothing to do,
came dashing up with eyes wide open and the steps
of the lads that had gone traipsing off at a snail’s pace
towards bamboo-shaded villages veiled in evening smoke
took on new speed, straw-hatted farmers’ faces
half sunk between their shoulders
lit up with the most innocent smile in the world,
I have never once gotten off
beyond Namwon station in North Jeolla, at Jusaeng station, or
Ongjeong, or little Geumji station, just slightly deaf,
with their thuja tree fences,
as the train Mica 16 raises its cheerful head a moment.
Old friend, Nam-Ju, and more than my friend, son of the nation, champion of democracy!
‘Let’s go on; if the going’s too hard, rest, then go on,”
you whispered, gasping;
but now you’ve gone striding across mountains, crossing rivers ahead of us,
then lightly entered the world beyond, old friend.
As a snowstorm, unseasonal so far south, blankets the fields
and under mounds of straw garlic shoots open fresh green eyes,
do we really have to cover your bright innocent eyes
and send you back to your native village?
The village of young Kim Nam-Ju who long ago used to laugh innocent ox-like laughs together with the ox, holding an English dictionary in one hand;
the village of harsh division in a divided nation, that drove him out, calling him a spy,
that expelled him, calling him a warrior; village in Gwangju;
the village that presented him with the first bouquet in his life;
the village of his mother, a peasant all her life; his father’s village;
the class-divided village where he risked his life for liberation—
and today in this village must we lower your coffin and remain here sobbing?
So off you go, Nam-Ju.
Branches broken and ears scoured by winter winds, off you go, Nam-Ju, no looking back.
And as you go, when you encounter fields, at the streamside there
have a goats’ butting match with the familiar kids,
or when you encounter high waves, heave-ho, over you go,
sending the world’s message, eyes brimming with tears,
to the woman walking listlessly on the prow of a ship, a child on her back.
The sun is bright today, it’s a windy day here in this world,
you know for sure; on that hillside cemetery at Mangweol-dong you visited first on emerging from nine years in prison, standing with head bowed,
you saw for sure the spirits of countless heroes of the democracy struggle hastening down the slopes waving little white hands in the sunshine, did you not?
So off you go, Nam-Ju.
The work to be done in this world will be done by those who remain;
you spent your whole life fighting with imperialist oppressors,
now it’s time for you to enter history and be born anew with a baby’s hands;
this world imposed too many burdens on you,
burdens you never once laid aside;
now entrust them to us and depart in peace.
Friend gone striding across mountains, crossing rivers lightly ahead of us;
come back again when salvias bloom bright,
or come back when clouds of pine-pollen go drifting over hills and streams,
like scarlet plum blossom in snow.
Your life itself is our land’s last half-century of history,
born as you were in the year of Liberation; and the day will surely come when the barbed-wire tangles of division and the chains of imperialism,
will all be removed,
the day will come when capitalism is defeated by capitalism;
come back to this world then, your weak leg straight, opening closed eyes anew,
with that calm, boyish smile,
old friend, Nam-Ju, and more than my friend, true champion of democracy!
Dazed by the scent of camellia blossom and unable to sleep all night,
the frogs in paddy fields for miles around
went swarming in search of the way to Seonun-sa temple
then at dawn turned into a ghastly sight,
lying flat on the still warm asphalt.
In a grove of camellias flocks of sparrows had perched
and were chirping something, something.
The camellia flowers replied okay, okay, okay,
and fell in heaps.
It seems one magpie failed to come back home last evening.
All night long one old magpie laments, pecking at the dark void.
A few lights shine out from distant houses.