Kim Nam-Ju (1946 - 1994)

 

             A militant social and political activist since his university days, Kim Nam-Ju was sentenced to fifteen years' imprisonment for his political activities in 1979. His first volume of poems was published in 1984. He was released from prison in late 1988 and married a few weeks later. He died in February 1994.

 

 

             Poetry's Cradle Poetry's Grave

 

You ask

how long I've been writing poems

and all I can answer is that

struggle and everyday life are my poems' cradle.

 

You ask

what sort of poetry my poems are

so rough and coarse like a woodseller's fagot of firewood

and all I can do is ask in return

 

if that isn't what combat is always like

rising higher than a steeple in your throat at first

then breaking out in a curse you can't control?

 

on the other side they come brandishing knives

why not resist them on our side armed with pens?

where in the world are combats well-behaved?

is poetry always the pastime of a well-born elite?

 

You ask

if I've any odd reason for writing poems

I can only say

revolution's my way and as I went on

on to the sound of broken hammer and sickle

I first came to write what they call poems

Fighting against labor's enemy

             hand in hand with peasants and workers

fighting and bleeding

songs emerged yes songs emerged of their own accord

I've never slaved at a poem sitting at a desk

my poetry's cradle is no armchair

             it's in the thickest thick of struggle

an armchair would be my poetry's grave.

 

 

 

 


             Monkeys and Sugar

 

It's really funny

the way Indians catch monkeys.

This is how I'm told they catch monkeys.

They take a coconut and make a hole in one side

scarcely big enough for a monkey's empty paw

then they put in some of the sugar monkeys love so

and hang the thing up on a high branch.

Then invariably along comes your monkey and skillfully

slips in its paw and deftly grabs a lump of sugar

only the paw once closed around the sugar

won't come out, strive though it may,

though it pulls tugs and sweats it won't come out.

If it lets go of the sugar it can easily get free

but how could it ever give up such a treat?

You can come and threaten it with hand or foot

you can beat its red bottom with a stick, it's all the same.

Then the Indians shoot it dead with an arrow

at which its fist opens and lets go of the sugar.

 

It's really funny

what it takes to make a monkey let go of sugar

and a backward country's president let go of power.

 

 

 


Massacre

 

 

It was a day in May.

It was a day in May 1980.

It was evening on a day in May 1980 in Kwangju.

 

At midnight I saw

riot police replacing regular police.

At midnight I saw

soldiers replacing riot police.

At midnight I saw

American civilians leaving the city.

At midnight I saw

all vehicles being prevented from entering the city.

 

Ah, what a grim midnight that was.

Ah, what a deliberate midnight that was.

 

It was a day in May.

It was a day in May 1980.

It was midday on a day in May 1980 in Kwangju.

 

At midday I saw

bands of soldiers armed with bayonettes.

At midday I saw

groups of soldiers ready to attack the people.

At midday I saw

groups of soldiers ready to rob the people.

At midday I saw

groups of soldiers incarnating evil.

 

Ah, what a fearful noon that was.

Ah, what a candid noon that was.

 

It was a day in May.

It was a day in May 1980.

It was evening on a day in May 1980 in Kwangju.

 

At middnight

the city was a heart abuzz like a beehive.

At midnight

the streets were a river of blood flowing like lava.

At midnight

the breeze was stirring the bloody hair of a murdered girl.

and at midnight

the dark was devouring a childs eyeball ejected like a bullet

and at midnight

the murderers were taking the bodies away somewhere.

 

Ah, what a dreadful midnight.

Ah, what an organized midnight.

 

It was a day in May.

It was a day in May 1980.

It was midday on a day in May 1980 in Kwangju.

 

At noon

the sky was a blood-red cloth.

At noon

in the streets not a house that was not weeping.

Mount Mudung put on mourning dress and veiled its face.

At noon

Yongsan River stopped breathing and held its breath.

 

Ah, the massacre at Guernica was not this grim, for sure,

the devilish plotting not so refined.