Poems by Kim Sa-in

 from Liking in Silence (2006)



Depth of a Landscape


The wind blows,

short blades of grass shiver and tremble,

yet no one pays attention.


With the lonely trembling

of one moment in the life of those tender things,

one evening of the universe finally fades into night.

Between this side and that of the trembling,

between the first and last of that moment, is an infinitely old stillness of

ancient times, or maybe a young stillness

belonging to a time that is yet to come,

smeared faintly, scarcely visible

in the spring sunlight of that listless stillness.

I long to fall sound asleep for one or two hundred years,

or three months and ten days at least.

Then beside my infinity, bearing the name of three months or ten days,

butterflies or bees, insects with nothing much to brag of

may heedlessly go brushing past;

at that, as if in a dream,

I think I shall recognize a familiar smell borne on those tiny creatures’ feelers or wings or infant legs

as your gaze, grown deeper in some other lifetime.






Removing your clothes like old newsprint

I lay you, raw, on a damp quilt and look down at you.

Your gnarled hands and feet have lost their vigor,

the traces of thin limbs and ribs, how weary they look.

I’m sorry.

Using you, I earned a living,

got a woman and built a home, but

all that’s left are stale sweat and a road to nightmares.

Once again, I lay you down, docile,

in a hushed corner of an unfamiliar piece of ground.

What else could I do?

I’m not saying there were no good days, but

it’s a long way before paying even a wretched wage for your labors.

I wonder if I should simply go away quietly,

leaving you sleeping here like this.

How about it, body?




Cosmos Flower


You empty pockets

of one who never persecuted anyone!


When shall we go back home

and weeping relate to father

all that has happened since we left?



A Spring Night


“When I die, you’ll donate at least fifty thou’, won’t you, old brother? Nowadays a lot of people only pay thirty thou’, but for me, you’ve got to give at least fifty; you will, won’t you? Sure?” A phone call from roughneck Lee Something (age 47), sloshing about in pungent waves of drink, one spring night.


“Here, I got red-bean buns, you’ve got to eat them while they’re hot.” Screaming like he’s swallowed a train, poet Park Something (age 47) barges into the middle of the quiet gathering and hands over a plastic bag. “Give me a kiss, one kiss!” He thrusts out a face black from drinking, one spring night.


“At any rate, we have to be clear about marking our beginning and end, fellas!” Jang (age 51), the owner of a chicken-and-carp-soup restaurant fusses. “To start, let’s sing the national anthem. “Aigo, it’s the first time such a fine song has ever been heard at our place!” The halfwit bar woman (age 50) remarks, pouring on and on, even the leftover wine she’s grabbed from a table no longer occupied, one spring night.


“It’s a hundred twenty thousand won really, but I’ll just take a hundred thousand.” So with an “Are you sure?” they fumble through wallets, finally putting fifty thousand on the slate; then, with a “Still, let’s have just one more,” they wave an index finger, pulling one another by the sleeve to a streetside cart-bar, one spring night.


Death, too, erupts as a crimson rash.

Kang Something, Kim Something, O Something, they’ve all gone on ahead.

I, too, would rather drift off to some southern streamside

and fall without a care like a clumsy magnolia,


needing another fifty thousand won

for reasons this and that, one night.






Someone Who Makes a Bridge Feel Lonely



suppose I took a poem such as this

and worked hard to transcribe it again—

couldn’t you consider that as writing a new poem?


I see someone crossing a bridge.

He walks, stops briefly, and looks at the distant hills,

walks, pauses, and does the same again.


A little later someone else crosses the bridge.

Passing with quick steps, he is soon gone without a trace.

Only the bridge he’s crossed remains alone, empty.


Someone quickly crossing a bridge makes the bridge feel lonely.


That’s how the poem goes.

(There are plenty of other good poems, you say?)


If you say it won’t do, well, it can’t be helped.

But please, God,

don’t make a poem feel lonely

by passing through it too fast.


Have I looked at the stars too much?

Would the stars be soiled?

Have I looked at the sky too much?

Would the sky be soiled?


He is a spirit who, trembling, has quit this world.




Note: The inserted texts are from two poems by Yi Seong-seon (1941 – 2001).





Encounter with a Little Toe


The moment I happened to notice the little toe enclosed in a stocking, I sobered up in a flash. Lying upside-down with downcast eyes at the body’s most secluded corner, it embodied a million years of human history, so I dared not even hover about it with adjectives of the sentimental sort such as ‘pitiful’ or ‘pathetic.’ From those starving in Afghanistan to the wife of my father’s second cousin who was a comfort woman for the Japanese army, it seemed that enshrined within its subdued modesty were the spirits of wounds from time immemorial.

Seized with a moment’s dread that the bent, hidden thing might have died, my hand involuntarily reached down and nudged it.

Ah, see how it shrinks back, saying it’s alive!

That response brought tears to my eyes, as it somehow felt like a hopeless symbol of our hope.

The woman sitting with her back to me, maybe or maybe not sensing what I was feeling, drew her foot in slightly, pulled down the hem of her skirt, and gently covered it over.




The Way Back Home


Amidst thundering traffic

a yellow dog trails endlessly

along the edge of a city freeway.


Will it get back home alive?


Exposed beneath the curled-up tail,

its red ass.







Pushing a bicycle

and walking slowly along a riverside path one summer’s evening,

a fairly refreshing activity.

When I reach Hwasun restaurant at the end of the embankment,

putting down all my gloomy thoughts,

I’ll have to down some fish stew with a good slug of soju.

But taken with a wish to avoid that, today

I go down to the water’s edge and look for minnows,

then turn back, deliberately staggering as if drunk.

Quite good!

The poplar leaves shimmering in the evening light,

the smooth breeze sidling under my loosened shirt

(such luxuries!),

my feet press firmly on the ground.

Shoulders and hips sway merrily.

My stomach feels full and contented.

How should there not be penny-pinched days beyond shady back-alleys?


only this is Jeonju’s riverside.

Late summer, breeze and water are pure,

the path where I push my bicycle is lined with willows.

On such an evening,

perhaps a friend living in the Pole Star will come visiting,

mounted on a stout-bellied donkey.

If so, I’ll meet up with him beyond Gugil restaurant

in front of Hwanggeum general store.

He on his donkey, I pushing my bicycle with the wheels squeaking as they turn,

we’ll go up to my house with its spacious maru* on Gyodong hill,

laughing uproariously,

this breeze-blessed evening.


Note: in a traditional Korean house, the maru is a wood-floored, roofed space opening onto the yard between individual rooms.





Drizzle drifting, drizzle drifting,


drizzle drifting behind that fellow drifting off,


drizzle drifting too


over the poplar’s indifferent trunk;


you grew old before you reached twenty


and the ocean’s still far away.


Drizzle drifting away, gaunt back turned,


drifting winter drizzle,


there’s no catching you, withering drifting drizzle.