Kim Ju-Tae (1966 - )


An activist from his university days, Kim Ju-Tae published his first book of poems in 1990.



             Shall we spread the tarpaulin?


Rice had run out and I was hungry.

I brought out mother's handcart

to sell little melons sweet as dreams.

Polishing the handles

that mother's dirty hands had stained

I decided to do without lunch this first day.

If Mother gets out of hospital quickly

I can go back to school again.

The sky keeps clouding over, mother,

it looks as though it'll rain today.

Pulling the cart

mother's wrinkled face

soundlessly fell

in each drop of sweat pouring down like rain.

How hard it must have been for her!

My wishes for her speedy recovery

urged me to push the heavy cart on,

escaping from the traffic cop's whistle

stuck at a crossroads unable to budge.

I followed the road that mother took.

Stationing the cart

at a corner that seemed to smell of mother's sweat

I began to cry out: Honey melons. Sugar melons.

Our teacher stopped by to warn me:

The last year of middle school's an important time.

But how can I leave this spot

abandoning our cart?


it's starting to rain

but it's too soon to spread the tarpaulin, isn't it?




             Taehung Chemicals Plastic Factory 


They call it a factory, but it's just a big shed.

A stench of molten polyethelene, intense heat.

"Taehung Chemicals" sounds good.

A place where they turn people into plastic.

When I go in with my newspapers

expressionless faces, no thought of taking them,

stay glued to the plastic machines.

I toss in the bundle, listen to the noise,

then creep out and away.

A place like a sauna but without even a fan.

Breathing in the stinking chemicals

producing pure plastic like silkworms

in Taehung Chemicals factory,

people from Muan in Cholla

from Tanyang in Chungchon

who've shouldered their dreams and come up to Seoul

all melt and turn into plastic.

Their dreams and loves melt and turn into plastic.

If you enter Taehung Chemicals

you find no people, just a plastic universe.

There is only the boss, who drops by once a week

and carts off the plastic,

who has not turned into plastic himself.

He looks imposing, an owner of slaves,

but he always seems rather nervous.

One day the workers, expert at producing plastic,

are going to turn him into plastic too.

They'll make plastic out of his fat paunch

and his shiny imported car.


Work hard, Taehung Chemicals factory!




Ah, Kwangju! Korea’s Cross!



Ah, Kwangju! Mudung Mountain!

City of our eternal youth,

making us shed bitter tears between death and death.


Where has our father gone?

Where did our mother fall?

Where did our son

die? where was he buried?

And our lovely daughter—

where does she lie, her mouth gaping wide?

And our spirits—where have they been scattered,

smashed into tiniest fragments?


Kwangju, abandoned

by God and by birds,

where only people of true humanity

remain alive—

falling, prostrate, rising again—

our bloodstained city.

Ah, southern phoenix, phoenix, phoenix, nothing but keening,

intent on defeating death through death,

on seeking life through death.


Now sun and moon come toppling down

and all the mountains of this present age

soar feebly aloft

yet, ah, flag of freedom

that no one can rend

or deprive us of,

flag of humanity

flag composed of flesh and bone!


Ah, our city!

Even though our songs and dreams and love

are sometimes tossed like waves,

sometimes simply covered with a tomb.

Ah, Kwangju, Kwangju,

bearing this nation’s cross

passing over Mount Mudung

over Golgotha’s hill

ah, son of God, nothing but wounds,

nothing but death.


Did we really die?

Unable to love this nation any more

unable to love our children any more

did we we die?

Did we really die once and for all?


In the streets Ch’ungjang-no, Kumnam-no

in the neighborhoods Hwajong-dong, Sansu-dong, Yongbong-dong,

in Chisan-dong, Yangdong and Kyerim-dong

and more, and more, and more . . .

ah, wind that engulfs and blows over

our blood and broken flesh,

inevitable flow of time!


Is falling, falling, and weeping

all we have to do now?

Should fear and life

have to do nothing but breathe?


Ah, you survivors--

why, you all have heads bowed, like sinners.

All you survivors,

how hard it is, how fearful it is

to confont even a bowl of rice in your confused state,

so fearful as to be quite impossible.


“Dear, I was waiting for you,

waiting for you in front of the gate

when I died . . .

Why did they rob me of my life?

Our lot was only a single rented room

but how happy we were.

I wanted to take good care of you.

Ah, my dear.

And I died with your child

enclosed in my womb, dear!

I am so sorry, my dear!

They robbed me of my life

and so in the end

I killed you

killed you completely,

your youth, your love,

your son, your…

ah my dear!”


Ah Kwangju! Mount Mudung!

Piercing your way through death after death,

city of our eternal youth

quick with the flicker of white clothes!

Phoenix. Phoenix. Phoenix.

Bearing this nation’s cross

returning again over Golgotha’s hill

ah, our country’s son of God!


Jesus died once

rose again once

and is said to be alive today and evermore

but our true loves, you died several hundred times

will rise several hundred times.

Our light! Our glory! Our pain!

Why, now we are more alive.

Now we are stronger still.

Now we are more.


Ah, now we are bringing together

shoulder with shoulder, bone with bone,

and climbing up this nation’s Mount Mudung.

Rising into the sky so blue it maddens the mind,

we kiss the sun and moon.


Kwangju! Mount Mudung!

Ah, our eternal banner!

Dream! Cross!

City of youth growing ever younger

as time goes rolling on.

Now we are surely united,

firmly. Surely,

firmly, we rise up hand in hand.