Kim Young-Moo (1944 – 2001)
Kim Young-Moo was a professor in the English Department of Seoul National University. He only began to write poetry in the last 10 years of his life. He died after a 3-year confrontation with cancer.
From the moment you receive a cancer verdict
(cancer is always a verdict, not a diagnosis)
your world brightens up.
Memories fly about
like the windows revolving on a screen saver.
The subconscious of a primitive age wakes up
and comes strutting by, while meteors
flash down from your future up in space.
Darkness banished, light and shade, patterns removed,
thickness, depth and weight abolished,
differences between living on the street with starvation
and a snug bed at home with warm meals obliterated,
all demarcations destroyed,
World of clear bright light.
With the roots of time and the stone hinges of space
eliminated, your reality becomes
a world of cancerous cells,
without distinction between inside and out,
oh, the very height of digital technology,
caught in the trap of a restructuring
designed to weed out the uncompetitive
at the very instant when,
incapable of surviving amidst toxic conditions,
unlike pokeweed, bullfrogs, threadworms, leeches,
they have little by little lost their vitality,
declined into weakness, your life,
a world of pure white light, virtual reality.
Not a cloud in sight,
then suddenly the sky clouds over.
The river asleep below a eutcalyptus tree
undulates, moves on again.
After drying out its soaked wings in the sun
then shaking them thoroughly, folding them up
like laundered clothes,
a cormorant disappears into the water.
After a long submersion,
a silver fish squirms in dazzling nakedness
at the tip of its uplifted beak.
The river flows, mimicking starlight and
the leaves shimmer in the breeze,
mimicking the waves.
I have been living for a month beside Swan River
in West Australia, a place like the world on the Fifth Day,
like the first man
who opened his eyes on the Sixth Day of Creation.
But its seems that after a month, even Paradise
grows as familiar and staid as an aging, long-time wife .
After gazing blankly at the ancient river, I set off again,
listening to the boisterous chatter of youthful waves.
I see from behind
Life and Death walking hand in hand, affectionately,
red hair-ribbons streaming in the breeze,
a ravishing sight.
Death brings a burst of tears
and birth a burst of tears.
A departure that makes others cry is death,
birth is a coming at which we ourselves cry;
at the end and beginning of life
there are always tears.
Meteor tears fall
flashing across the black sky,
the pitch-black darkness.
Oh, a sudden illumination touches my heart.
Has someone died?
Has someone been born?
Every day a red-bellied frog living in the rapids
thin-shelled snails thinking they¡¯re good to eat
then quickly spits them out
with a grimace
having found they taste awful.
I¡¯m clinging like a drop of dew to a leaf
at the edge of a cliff where the river rushes by.
I wish I were that snail just vomitted up
from the frog¡¯s gullet.
The snail is very slow today, as ever,
heedless of the passage of time,
and its taste is nothing special, too .
What are these sudden
Some happy event must have occurred
in the middle of my body.
A petard went soaring up early in the evening,
dazzling bright in my left side;
circling my waist another petard
shot up in my right side, then here and there, everywhere
fireworks started going off.
Fireworks of pain, non-stop
for three days, a week, day and night, tireless,
a new world of suffering
wrenched open in the center of my body,
an iron-fisted rule of pain.
Oh, I wish I were in a land of no pain.
Are they for a triumphal feast
celebrating cancerous cells¡¯ capture of my body?
Muscles, fiber by fiber,
flesh, bit by bit,
cluster after cluster of fire-flowers
flutter down little by little, pile up
in every gap of my skeleton.
Falling fire-flowers are splendid but
more splendid still those newly blooming.
I struggle to say some words in prayer
gazing up at the stars in the sky
but my clenched molars won¡¯t even let my lips open.
Pain is its own luminosity.
Every bone turns to charcoal and burns,
a brazier-full in the middle of my body
for a month and more.
How could I forge
a new life,
even tiny as a needle¡¯s point,
in these savage flames?
Oh, could these magnificent fireworks
where drops of sweat fall, swooning pearls,
be labor pains?
May they be labor pains.
I am bidden to accept
bidden to accept
this despair, this dark compulsion.
Is this what a cancer patient¡¯s fear is like?
Bidden to accept a death sentence?
How frightened she must have been,
as she, a virgin, was bidden to bear a bastard.
She said, ¡®Fiat¡¯
with resignation, with dignity,
with uneasy expectancy,
and those who have never known despair
call it devout obedience.
Magnificat -- the song sung
as a dream of new heavens, new earth,
born of the despair of a terminal cancer patient,
my soul, my soul
praises you in joy.
* Magnificat is the first word of the Song of Mary in Latin (Luke 1:46-55).