Two poems by An Sang-Hak

Published in volume 2 of Asia, 2006

My hands look sad

I reckon my hands look sad today.
If I stretch out my hand to offer the dog a biscuit, invariably
the dog stands on its back feet and claws the air with its front feet.
As its front feet are like my hands, impatient for something,
abruptly the hand holding the biscuit looks gloomy.
This usually unbowed upright stance of mine feels awkward.

They say people come empty-handed and leave empty-handed.
That’s wrong, people come with no hands and leave with no hands.
Only look, the crawling baby is all feet, no hands.
And that crawling old man’s hands
fumbling with shit are not hands but feet.
People come four-footed, live two-handed
then leave four-footed. That’s life.

While living two-handed
well-off people’s hands are devilish.
Front feet turn into hands mainly for property
front feet turn into hands mainly for violence
front feet turn into hands mainly for domination.

While living two-handed
badly-off people’s hands are yet more devilish.
They are mainly for begging before capital
they are mainly for imploring before violence
they are mainly for holding up before power.

While living two-handed, going to the limits
devilish hands and yet more devilish hands clash.
The hands that once begged usurp power, become hands of property.
The hands that once implored grab the sword, brandish it murderously.
The hands that once surrendered strangle power, practice domination.
Two-handed history is a history of endlessly renewed battles.

Today, as I consider
the hands of my so innocent dog, that once it’s full
go straight back to being feet,
as I consider the dog’s hands that know nothing of surplus,
inevitably my hands look sad to me. And I reflect how fortunate
it is that a dog can’t stay standing on two feet for long.
After all, in a world that’s already in chaos with so many free hands
how grim it would be if dogs went that way too.

Returning at once to four feet
as soon as the biscuit’s handed over, that simple animal
looks infinitely cute for the rest of the day. I even feel a yearning
for sex with that dog, it looks so blissful as it wags its tail.
And meanwhile my hands today
look so plainly sad. With nothing to be taken
and nothing they want to take, still my hands look infinitely sad .
The fault lies with this world’s being far too much a space of upright stance
to be able to shake one’s two hands and go crawling off, four-footed.

Today my hands, pawing the air for their daily bread again, are sad.


Bulyeong Temple

A bird goes flying up
leaving its shadow on the ground.
It seems to have forgotten it.

left his shadow in the lotus pond
went up onto the mountain ridge and turned into a rock.

The triple-storeyed stone pagoda
in front of the main hall
originally had no shadow.

One Buddha’s Birthday,
Shan-miao the Chinese maiden left, riding on the ninth dragon,
yet remained there as the shadow of a nun.

A windflower before the Mountain Spirit’s shrine
bit its own shadow
and straightway attained perfect mindfulness.

A stone turtle, its body buried in the ground,
instead of casting off attachment to its shadow
was given the penance of having a temple built on its back.

The bird was in the sky
the shadow was on the ground.
The bird was bird, the shadow was shadow.

An Sang-Hak

Born 1962 in Andong, North Gyeongsang Province
Made his poetic debut by winning the 1988 Literary Award of the Chungang Ilbo.
Has published 3 collections of poetry.