FAINT SHADOWS OF LOVE : Poems by Kwang-kyu Kim

Translated by Brother Anthony, of Taize
Copyright 1991 by Brother Anthony

Published by Forest Books (London) 1991

Forest Books, 20 Forest View, Chingford, London E4 7AY, U.K.

ISBN 1 85610 000 6

Going home in the evening

We gave up any thought of flying long ago

These days we don't even try to run
we dislike walking so we try to ride
(We mostly travel about by bus or subway)
Once on board we all try to get a seat
Once seated we lean back snoozing
Not that we are tired
but every time money-making is over
our heads become atrophied
scales sprout all over our bodies
Our blood has grown cold
But still with half-open eyes
our practised feet take us home

We return every evening to our homes
like reptiles returning to their swamp

The voice of the water

Between the hills and fields and trees and sky
that sway like seaweed
look what can be seen on the boundless earth

Pitifully flapping wings birds fly
awkward on four feet animals trot
cars rolling on wheels
planes borne in the wind
people walking precariously on two feet

they brew and drink endless thirst as wine
they make gods in imitation of water
then unearthing oil they revolt against water
by day flesh moved smiles as face
by night in twos they play clumsy games
and once again wash their dirty bodies in water

Abandoned tribes of metal
kindling fires of parched time
spitting on rotting fingertips and counting money
in that way may you be a whole lifetime dissatisfied
may you suffer many more deaths
The blessings of water are not bestowed


Never ever perching
in branches of trees of comfort
those trees that grow straightest
if not completely vertical
that generate no electricity
Holy bird!
A duck is not one for lying down or getting up
Quietly wandering over winter river water
it merely repeats simple gestures
It has not picked up any complicated habits
Sometimes it leaves water prints
in the snow-covered ice
and if an earthquake comes
riding the whirlwind it flies up
up into the sky
casting a final shadow
destined to become a fossil
on the land of death
Most perfect bird!
The place from which the duck comes flying
and to which it returns
is a place I have come too far from
Borne on trains traversing continents
crossing oceans by aeroplane
I have travelled so far in any case
that now it is impossible for me
to cross that far horizon and return
How happy is the duck returning
with unthinking wing-beats
whenever the seasons change
If I am ever to return to that place
I must first forget with groans of pain
all the language I have so arduously learned
With far greater difficulty than in the gaining
I must lose one by one all the things I know
Useless the pitiful body's writhing
as it tries to get up and get up again
then lie down and lie down again
At last I shall have to set out alone
How envious then is the life of the duck
that flies and flies then drops plop dead
Blessed bird
serenely frequenting that far-off place
I can never return to so long as I live
There are times when I long to become a duck


When the sound of chimes rings out from the church
I get up and throw open the window
then draw in deep refreshing breaths
That sweet odour of lead from exhaust fumes
floating through the early morning air!
Health is truly a grace of God
As I duly eat my morning rice
mixed with mercury-whitened bean-sprout soup
then ride to work on a crowded bus
I always love today especially
Today is the day to pay the month's installment
to the building and loans society

At nine o'clock feeling
the prickly glare of instruments I stand
before a daily growing metal mass
suddenly emerging from the metal a cricket's chirp
a frog's croak
this metal so utterly incapable of error
sometimes makes me feel sinful
How can I be asked to be sorry
for forty years lived according to safety first?
I must pray saying I repent

With thick glasses over bloodshot eyes
today as usual I rummage in trash cans
searching among fag-ends and messy doodles
and inside crushed soft-drinks cans
for conspiracies hidden there
All day long I carefully rummage in trash cans
and if I cannot find anything
my heart grows more anxious still for
who could believe in a world without conspiracy?

An annual interest of 10% maturing in 15 years. . .
I spend the day absorbed in calculating costs
and in the evening I meet my friends
Smart fellows together
winners and loosers versus today
drinking so as not to get drunk
making uproar so as not to talk
driven out by the midnight curfew
making our way home
bringing up what we have eaten
beside an alley-way telegraph pole
weeping a moment tears clear as liquor
we gaze up at the hazily shining stars

In this treeless village once TV is finished
we each and all give the house over to the dogs
and snoring virile snores sleep others' sleep
With pitiful gestures we dream daytime dreams
--- it's even ok to look angry
You bastards just you show your faces quick
it's even ok to swear
You bastards just you speak up quick
and just you think for once
who do you think is the boss here? ---
The things that we hear in dreams
and that the ear gets used to hearing there
every time we wake up
we forget

Faint shadows of love gone by

At the end of the year of the April Uprising
we met at five in the afternoon
happily clasped hands in greeting
then sitting in a chill fireless room
our breaths condensing white
we engaged in heated discussions
Foolishly enough we believed
we were living for the sake of something
for something that had nothing to do with politics
The meeting ended inconclusively and that evening
drinking grog at Hyehwadong Rotary
we worried in a pure-minded way
about problems of love and spare-time jobs
and military service
and each of us sang as loud as he could
songs no one listened to
songs no one could imitate
Those songs we sang for no reward
rose up into the winter sky
and fell as shooting stars

Eighteen years later at last we met again
all wearing neckties
each of us had become something
We had become the older generation
living in dread of revolution
We chipped in to cover the cost of the party
exchanged news of our families
and asked the others how much they were earning
Anxious about the soaring cost of living
happily deploring the state of the world
expertly lowering our voices
as we discussed rumours
We were all of us living for the sake of living
this time no one sang
Leaving abundant drink and side-dishes behind us
noting one another's new phone numbers we parted
A few went off to play poker
A few went off to dance
A few of us walked sadly
along the university street we used to frequent
Clutching rolled-up calendars under our arms
in a place returned to after long wanderings
in that place where our love gone by had bled
unfamiliar buildings had appeared suspiciously
the roadside plane trees stood in their old places
and a few remaining dry leaves trembled
sending shudders up our spines
Aren't you ashamed?
Aren't you ashamed?
As the wind's whisper flowed about our ears
we deliberately made middle-aged talk about our health
and took one step deeper into the swamp

The land of mists

In the land of mists
always shrouded in mist
nothing ever happens
And if something happens
nothing can be seen
because of the mist
for if you live in mist
you get accustomed to mist
so you do not try to see
Therefore in the land of mists
you should not try to see
you have to hear things
for if you do not hear you cannot live
so ears keep growing bigger
People like rabbits
with ears of white mist
live in the land of mists

A ghost


Look at that black car
speeding through the dark
Look at those men in everyday clothes
vanishing up side-streets smoking cigarettes
Look at those oily marks
spreading over the devasted earth
look at those pieces of iron
littering every roadside

if you cannot see the shape of the ghost
you must all be blind!

Within the flying dust and cement
that enter our lungs each time we breathe
until at last it seems we must suffocate

if you cannot hear the voice of the ghost
you must all be deaf!

Hear the voice of those corpses
rotting sunk in some deep pond
Hear the voice of those breaking bodies
that rise smoking from every chimney and fill the sky
Hear the groans that to the bitter end
do not emerge from mouths clenched tightly shut
Hear those shouted commands that rise
from a treeless sandy plain



Year of Death 


One who has died was alive until that year.

Once the unforeseeable future’s done with,

what’s left is posthumous.

Time flows on unending . . . . the rest is

the lot of those still alive,

living on unaware of being confined

in a space enclosed by parentheses.