Poems by Kim Kyŏng-Ju (b. 1976)

The first 3 poems were translated by Brother Anthony

The Ganges inside my Walkman

On lonely days I touch my flesh.

I’m curious whether the music that has roamed through every corner in my body is still alive inside my skin.

Since the night I turned twelve, I’ve been kindling blue bonfires inside the radio. Even in a very slight breeze, the music wavers as if about to vanish, to vanish, but beneath a low standing lamp shedding a moist light I am now recalling an echo that is flying off in a direction opposite to the Earth.
I am waiting for a postcard called the soul to come flying from the direction most opposite to me.

Tonight, remembering what an artist said about impossible sensitivity, in the alley on my way back from buying a herd of twenty cigarettes, I may have thought of the cold eyes of the Buddha who would have frequented this alley, the Buddha who would have leaned, trembling, against the wall, unable to remember his hometown.  I finally turn into music at the thought that an eyelash of Buddha may be lying about somewhere.
  Of all the Buddha’s disciplines, I always loved wandering best. Wandering is like that. Sitting crouched, one’s life all trembling. Even on days when the heart collapses with love. Awakened, I would sit trembling in a small back room. When such thoughts come, my eyes give off the smell of a river.

  My Walkman rolls and winds several thousand years of the Ganges into my ear, and from the cracks round the window arises the smell of the dreams dead people are dreaming in the river. Perhaps the smell of all the dreams they could never dream while alive is flowing down to every window in the city. But I wonder why the mountain goat tied to the inn’s tethering post cries all night long.

It  may be that the mountain goat remembers those many stars in order to learn the human expression loneliness. That night, as young Buddha sits biting his dirty fingers on the window-sill of Baba Guest House, staring down at the black water, there is a life that wishes to write, while the foreign lands of my body are many cries. Each tear was a point of heat trembling thinly in my eye.


Dry Ice
--Actually I am a ghost. A living being could never be this lonely. *

There are times when, suddenly, I cannot recall mother’s handwriting.
And I can feel from the December windows that
the time separating me and my birthplace is in a critical condition.
That’s romance.
This life will be troubled to the very end.

My head thrust into the refrigerator of the supermarket at the end of the alley,
I rummage among the frozen goods,
and suddenly touch a piece of dry ice.
The frozen hours burn and stick to my skin.
What could life—living in such cold, and then disappearing in such hot particles—
be wishing finally to deny?
Could it be that, in that brief moment of touching,
the hours, purer than the listless ardor,
lived out all the times that had taken root in my body?

I shiver as if all my body heat has been lost.
I shine briefly in the alley with a gleam of mercury
as if I have revealed all the nightscapes inside me.
I shall perish as a martyr in the times that I could not live.
A muddy wind passes through the moon
while the airs that could not slowly rise into the sky
flow, frozen, into the houses
like ghosts.

* Line from a poem by the ancient poet Cham Yeon.

By night the nail is gradually growing deeper

I somehow have the feeling that the nail hammered into that wall
is gradually growing deeper.

Seen from this side, the nail
is simply a thing hammered into the wall
but seen from the midst of the darkness behind the wall
within the time that I shall never be able to touch
even if I last several centuries, the nail
is a thing floating quietly in the void.

As the wind impregnates the wall, might the nail be shaking the vagueness
of the void like a branch cherishing its common-law union with a tree?

Understanding that
happened in an old inn I visited
after dumping a whole pocketful of nails.
And in the inn’s lofty room, after I had cast off my damp body,
my body bent
until a red spider
came creeping out of my mouth.

The nail knows that I bend secretly by night.

It is only when people weep
that they become the master of the animal they are raising.

The following poems were translated by Chong Un-Kwi, revised by Brother Anthony

The Outer World

Born without arms, he was a painter drawing nothing but wind.
Holding a brush in his mouth, on the canvas
he drew winds no one knew.
People couldn’t discern the shape of his drawings.
But his brush would flow far far away and back again,
emitting the sound of a child’s soft breathing.
If a drawing did not succeed,
he would climb up a cliff and open his mouth wide for several months.
To find a color no one had ever discovered before
he would dump a dark volcano deep into his eyes.
What he used to draw was
the two hands he had left behind in the womb.


Who Records All the Chronicles of the Wind?

You see, a glacier rolls proudly on for centuries, freezing wind inside itself.
Climbers who have reached a summit gnaw the mountain-top snow they have scooped up, saying what is on their mind. Truly, we are eating snow that has not melted for centuries. We are eating centuries-old wind trapped in the icy world. And to reach this wind people have wandered through mountains for centuries in search of a holy life, once in a while letting fly an echo there.

An echo
   only soaks in
            when it reaches
a  place untouched
                                      by life
   Might not an echo be what people do, people’s only recourse before the wind?
Some days as I break a mirror the wind that has been inside blossoms toward the blue sky.
And someone stroking my cheeks once suggested: Let’s start with a song first, shall we?

Wind is a living fossil. Even after every living thing has vanished, it survives as itself and goes roaming round. People weep inside their own world. Yet all living things weep inside the world of the wind, Then vanish.

As soon as the wind blows
                                go flying into
                                              their own dreams.

Looking up at birds that have human eyes, one’s self wanders in the eyes of others who are coming directly.
That might be the faint smile of people who once lived in front of the chronicles of the wind.
You see, some kind of joke forbidding the use of too rough a belittling style of language to the wind

A Room Flying into Space 5
               --The window hopes not to be exterminated

Window 1

A letter arrived saying that my elder brother had given up painting and was driving a local bus. People in an alley threw hot water with a dipper at dogs coupling with their behinds stuck together. I wiped the eyes of the dog I had raised with a rag. Girls, their mouths sealed with green tape, went on skipping with an elastic rope, not stopping even when night came. Their bodies gradually vanished into the air. Bats with babies went flying open-mouthed even by day.

Window 2

It also happened that an unmarried fortune-teller who had always only kept to her tiny room came out of the house. Sitting on a chair and slowly smoking a cigarette, she spent the whole day in the smell of her armpits. A rumor began to circulate through the neighborhood that there was a man who had entered a house through the window and then come out through the window. A slender wrist, that has been launching paper airplanes every night from a three-story house that smells of cotton flowers, today is hanging from a window like a branch.

Window 3

 As soon as night comes, a young priest puts his face out of a window and stares at the dreams flowing toward people’s rooms. Father, do not abandon me. A nun takes off her panties and puts them into the mouth of a saint who died on the street. From the blue-lit room where the priest and the nun sleep embracing each other a cry like a cat’s is heard every night. Gagging my mouth, I stared at my elder brother’s painting. Aged mothers are breathing on the windows and writing multiplication tables there. Look, dear, I’m memorizing the tables properly now. Father, do not abandon me.     

Window 4
Dialing Inquiries, someone asks for help. Dialing Inquiries, someone says I’m so sorry. Dialing Inquiries, someone says an airship is approaching. Dialing Inquiries, someone cries we have to meet sometime. Dialing Inquiries, someone begs for a short conversation. Dialing Inquiries, someone says we can never see each other’s face for a whole lifetime. Dialing Inquiries, someone says this city really is . . . Dialing Inquiries, a dumb guy practices pronouncing his name thousands times. Dialing Inquiries, someone quietly utters faceless weeping. A window, quietly dialing Inquiries in the dark in order to make a fossil of its weeping, believing the call is being recorded right now at the other end.

Window 5
Being exterminated means a certain kind of weeping is vanishing. I shall not be exterminated.