10 poems from

Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow  

Poems by Shim Bo-Seon

Translated by Jung Eun Gwi and Brother Anthony of Taizé

  Evolutions of Sorrow

The world is absorbed in my language.
I realized that last night.
In my room, the silent desk is a long-term resident.

Everlasting foul weather!
Give me edges like thunder!

If it had not been for sugar,
ants might have evolved into something rather bigger.
That was the sentence I completed after racking my brains all night.

(Then a long silence)

I keep getting fatter.
Like a desk that has lost its edges.

Here and there in this world, people are crying!
Even women born under Scorpio, who are said to be spiteful!

But I know nothing more about sorrow.
Just as a ball will never turn into a desk, even if it’s given edges.

In that case,
what kind of furniture will human beings evolve into?
This was the question I completed after racking my brains all night.

(Then everlasting silence)


Parting after a Meal

Now we’ve finished one topic
it’s time to part, dear.
I’ve grown tired of silent scenery.
Things that end up as they were before, no matter how much they’re stirred,
things like rice gruel where the trail left by a spoon slowly disappears, for instance,
such things are no fun at all.

Streets change day and night curtly like a restaurant menu being opened then shut.
I’ll vanish into that spreading darkness,
and you, turn your back, face the remaining brightness
and count to ten.
If you turn around after counting to ten,
the gums of the darkness that has swallowed me up
will softly touch your gentle cheekbones.

Good my dear,
eagerly eating the bullet I fired, aimed exactly at your heart,
as if it were a well-cooked grain of rice,
if there is a sound of good nature,
it is, for instance,
the sound you make inside as you slowly count to ten
while watching me quickly empty down a bowl of gruel,
a sound clearly heard though inaudible,
a sound that has to be heard at all costs,
the sound of a solid forehead being pierced and the mind’s spiteful gruel being stirred.

That’s what love is like.
It’s like a strange famine in a strange country
where hunger never vanishes all year long
though every day yields a bumper harvest,
with left-over rice-gruel becoming cooked rice then that becoming raw rice again.
Now our strange old tale ends here.

Good my dear,
good my dear,
is the landscape over there still bright?
Is it still bright after I count to ten?
My ruins don’t shine even if I count to a million billion.
I don’t know how to bring up the soggy gruel of darkness.


  Today, I

Today, like a trembling feather, I have no goal.
Today, I am hiding behind things that have already vanished.
The sun, having lost morning’s susceptibility,
glares in twilight’s purple dignity.
Once the moon bears evening’s rank pressed down on its head,
night will soon begin with the mournful expression of a passerby.
Black carcasses of birds I was indifferent to,
ash-hued segments drawn one by one on foreheads,
the sound of a neighbor hammering late,
other things like this and that.
Desperate about feelings and rules, I
forgot bygone times,
forgot dead friends,
forgot what agonies I was immersed in last year.
Today, I make a hole called the future in the calendar.
Next week’s desires,
next month’s void,
as well as requiems
of decisive nausea,
my share of tragedy, I know they still remain.
I know everyone has the right to hate.
Today I was scowling at someone’s mournful face.
Today I began to love one woman.


  A Ruin Very Briefly Shining

Like looking at pants I took off the day before,
I have no regrets about life.
If now I mean to start out on a long journey,
I should have got rid of my bitterly jealous heart before.
Glaring at the sun, I said I prefer square shapes.
Other shapes are all sad, I said.
After willows’ shadows one by one lengthen
on the ash-hued wall as if grappling with the sun, night comes,
then she appeared, soon disappeared, like some ancient religion.
A few hairs on the bed after love-making,
objects that cannot find adequate metaphors, at times,
when I recall tragedy, a real tragedy would spread before my eyes.
Flowers never know the meaning of flower language,
but each bud was full of grief.
Life was full of lies at that time,
but a truth passing by the universe
borrowed the night’s body, the moon’s lips
and covered the western sky.
At that moment, looking like pants taken off somewhere,
shabbily crumpled life
was a ruin very briefly shining.
It was mighty and sacred.


Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow

Above a distant high-rise apartment
the sun is beating its breast,
at its wits’ end beside the daytime moon.
Where shame is concerned, the world went to the dogs long ago.
Sometimes about fifteen seconds pass without sorrow.
Offering every possible excuse,
paths are bending everywhere.
The silence gathering on dusky sidewalks
hopes to grow older there by the second.
As they grow older, all beings leak when it rains.
All old beings that leak
dream of love like installing a new roof.
Everyone knows: whatever happens
was bound to turn out as it did.
One afternoon as the sun is squeezing out light with all its might,
the past goes walking backward and falls headlong
over the apartment railings. The future follows immediately after.
The present, being simply a flower’s day, a flower’s day
being the time it takes a flower to bloom and fall, is sad.
A cat is happily nibbling flower petals.
A woman is sipping chamomile tea.
They seem quiet and peaceful.
I stand aimlessly in the middle of the street.
A man passes by on a bicycle, weeping.
He is a human being destined to fall in the end.
The dream-garden in my head where dizziness is in full bloom.
Now about fifteen seconds have passed without sorrow.
I should set off somewhere,
but no matter where, ultimately, it’s a disappearing path.


  “Rubber Soul”

Nodding its head, the sun
has got this far. Men
brush aside their lovers’
long hair and step outside.
Rubbing sunshine all over their bodies like glue,
they head for some place worth

staying at. It’s a winter’s morning.
Their shadows are
like an overcoat worn once then thrown away.

When they walk,
one side of their breast gives out a crushing sound.
On their lips the froth from the last toast they drank
still remains. If their lover’s
kiss is still sweet,
it’s because of that. They have memories
like crushed beer cans.

In the places they left,
numerous strands of hair,
clumped together, are tumbling in the wind.
The windbreak windows of the lovers’ rooms
are shivering brrr.
It’s a winter morning.

The lovers of men who have left
are changing their underwear
at the lowest register.

*Rubber Soul: title of a Beatles album


  Things that Lead me to Disillusionment

The sun
The right
The smell of lemons
Strolling without a thought
A living dog beside a dead dog
An illustrated plant book without liverleaf
The last sentence in a religious book
Death on a slow screen
An artist’s erudition
Losing by a wide margin
Temperamental people
Citation and footnote
Yesterday’s telephone conversation
Large bourgeois families
Pronouncing ‘r’ in French
My old school’s main gate
Old lovers (in alphabetical order)
Consultants’ concept of customer
Kant’s Thing-in-itself
The term Thing-in-itself
The smell of lavender


  An Unavoidable Road

This road is the road I took yesterday too.
On this road, people
can only meet one other person.
Because of shame,
he pulls both ears down and covers his face with them.
But on this road,
there is nothing that cannot be mentioned.
All day long he lies face down.
In order to erase the shame,
he replaces his palms and face.
But yet, why are things that cannot be mentioned
unrelated to those that should be mentioned, why
don’t rules become incidents?
This road is easy to remember.
The roadside trees succeed in
dropping their leaves all just at the same time.
In order to forget the shame,
he sometimes sings and
also claps.
He never says a word.
No one can greet him.




A street after rain has stopped falling. Raindrops are collecting on the corners of the signboard of xx Service Center, falling and pooling. The afternoon silence is deep and shabby like the pockets of working clothes. Soon, the pooled water manages to pull at the edges of the world and soak into it. Then it moves up onto a well-dressed gentleman’s leather shoes. The water quickly sponges off, leaving nothing but machine oil. Children see the oil congealed on the ground and stir it with their fingers, calling it a rainbow. A tenacious rainbow that has not been erased even after a week. . . . . perhaps it’s a kind of patent.


At the pharmacy across the street, eczema and athlete’s foot introduce themselves to one another. They shake hands, barely stretching them out as if squeezing ointment from a finished tube. I moved out here not long ago. Ah, I’ve been a native of this neighborhood for twenty years. Outside the pharmacy, the two stick out like hair at the same time. To think we are living so close like this. Let’s tangle sometimes, hhhhh…. Replying with a smile when receiving greetings is correct behavior between neighbors. When evening comes, the street become the leg of a sleek shiny arthropod. Windows lighting up as prescribed.


Lights facing each another do not harbor malice toward one other. Rather, women occasionally check up by phone on their innocent seven-year-itch. The breadwinners have not come home yet. Like unfocussed eyes, the women are uneasy. The volume of waiting is always constant. If one side is pressed in resignation, the other side swells that much with dreams. The streets lifts its feet and heavily moves toward midnight. Folded like document files, the breadwinners are returning home.


  Going Shopping

One purebred Saint Bernard
is sitting at the entrance to a supermarket waiting for its master.
For a long time, not stirring an inch,
not once meeting anyone’s eyes,
as if it had forgotten the Alps a long time ago.

Holding one garlic-flavored bagel,
estimating the size of its sturdy body inside the thick coat,
I stay standing in front of it for a while.
A whiff of garlic borne on the breeze,
its twitching wet nose tells of its outstanding health.

Twitching, like the shopping list my wife wrote down on the paper.
I wish the details of life could be tranquil and simple.
Twitching, the assurance given right before going shopping
—I’ll select the highest quality meat –
though brief, is touching.

Finally, turning its head slowly,
the Saint Bernard stares at me.
The saliva hanging absent-minded about its lips is transparent.
You’re awesome, real cool.
It’s a bright day in early spring.
Hoping to be rescued by it, a blizzard is blowing
in the Alps of my mind,
as if I had forgotten about shopping a long time ago.