KIM SŬNG-HŬI (1952~)

Born in Kwangju (South Cholla Province) in 1952, Kim Sŭng-hee graduated from the English Language and Literature Department of Sogang University (Seoul) before going on to take her Master's and Doctoral degrees in Korean Language and Literature at the same university. She began her career as a poet in 1973 but in 1994 she was also recognized as a writer of fiction when she received one of the Spring Literary Awards for Fiction from the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper. She has published a number of volumes of poetry including Talgyal sok ŭi saeng (Life in the egg, 1989) and a volume of fiction Santa Fe ro kanŭn saram (People going to Santa Fe, 1997) as well as a book-length study of the work of Yi Sang in 1998.


The hardest battle in the world

When I wake up in the morning, the world is there.

When I wake up in the morning, the right world is there.

The right world is rightly there.

The rightful world is rightfully there.

Why is the rightful world there?

Why, every day, rightfully, there?

As if that is where it rightfully ought to be?

The rightful world is there so rightfully

that no one can unpeel its thick skin.

It exists there quite rightfully.

So who made the rightful world?

Someone rightful rightfully made the rightful world, surely?

Someone capable of making it rightfully,

someone still rightful after having made it.

Therefore, the rightful world is obviously right

and since rightfulness is obviously always right,

anyone trying to peel the rightful world

gets smacked away by the hand of the obvious.

The rightful hand is an invisible hand

but why is it so rightfully obvious?

In the rightful world, I alone am not rightful.

Always a stranger to the rightful world, I

cannot believe what the obvious world says.

Likewise the obvious world

certainly does not think much of me.

The rightful world is taming the obvious world

and the obvious world is taming our world.

Let's file suits against the rightful world!

Let's file suits against the obvious world!

Sand's occupation forces are drawing nearer day by day,

the rightful world our feet sink into all day long.

Hobbling painfully on, my fate obscure,

I have discovered that the hardest battle in the world

Is the battle with that.

Suppose I grabbed hold of the obvious and rightful

and gobbled them both up first?

Before the sands of the obvious harden into concrete,

before the prison of the rightful devours the world entirely.




All day long one child colors pictures in a book:

Butterflies, flowers, clouds, streams.

The child is afraid the colors may go over the lines.

Who taught her that fear?

How did she learn

it's wrong to go over the lines?

Those butterflies, flowers, clouds, and streams

are all imprisoned inside lines.

Mummy, Mummy, the crayons mustn's go

outside the lines, must they?

Fear overflows from the child's gentle eyes.

All day long, docile and neat, my child is carefully

coloring inside the lines as the instructions say.

If I were not Mummy,

I would tell her: Go on, dear.

Sribble over the lines. Paint outside the lines.

Butterflies, streams, clouds, and flowers

are all things that explode.

They are all alive, dear.

Things that blossom, surging and scrambling over the lines

Things that trespass, that break the law, dear.

I used to hate every kind of institution

but being Mummy is an institution too.

I'll bind you with the ropes that once bound me!

I am that woman and the governor-general.

Kill Mummy, then, dear!



I'm laughing

My laughter was ancient, a very ancient


From the time there was chaos in the beginning

my laughter blended happily with the chaos.

It started when the universe divided with its first wound

I was pushed to the edge of the world

and hung dangling there,

a laugh that would overwhelm the abyss,

laughing in all the nights of the world, perhaps.

As long as the wind was blowing, my laugh

was the bitter resentment of shaking leaves

then at rising tide, it came slipping out,

the runaway laugh of all the world's ebbing tides, perhaps.

At New York's 7th Avenue subway station

as I was waiting for a train

the woman beside me began to laugh,

a hawking sound as if her throat was full of phlegm,

her laughter was like a fit of coughing.

It seemed a hopeless fugue of gloom

mingled with the ponderous predestination 

filling the underground cavern's night

kneaded with sobs weary of life.

As her shoulders heaved, through the fingers covering her face

the passionate rapture of an evil spirit overflowed.

Then the train arrived, casting grim light.

She hurled herself down, fell,

she died laughing still on the subway tracks.

The weight of the train put an end to her life

all that was left was blood,

a packet of bones, a bleached scarf,

a little bloodstained hair tangled in the scarf.

She had laughed to the end, made the cavern ring

With her low damp laughter.

Out of the blue, I recalled mothers with bleached scarves 

on the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina,

May 1980 in Kwangju, nameless tombs and missing persons,

the countless mourners following 

dead student Lee Han-yol's coffin,

a vast crowd that seemed to groan as if urging

those who still lived to follow behind!

Africa's black tears like diamonds sobbing,

mothers in Chechenia pleading: Don't shoot my son!

standing naked in front of the invaders's tanks

Chechenia's mothers.

Suddenly laughter came bursting out

unstoppable, making my lungs and ribs resound,

breathtaking laughter bursting out,

immobilizing arms, legs, shoulders and back.

Was the laugh that rang through New York's subway

my own dark answer, my tribute to humanity's night?

My laughter reaches far and wide

across a vast and ancient region.

When hope to breathe is scarce, when sad comedy

and preposterous tragedy are daily occurences,

I laugh on recalling what loss, deprivation, disappearance 

are contained in every wave of the tide.

Passing ex-presidents's houses,

flitting past the National Assembly, 

passing press magnates' offices,

I laugh.

I laugh.

Dark laughter, coughing a Grand Canal dark as crows wings,

a slurry of coal-black despair,

with our generation's lungs, full of miners's disease,

I laugh

beside old hero Yi Sun-shin's grubby statue 

in the middle of Seoul.



To get out of the cavern

To get out of the cavern, I am looking for slippery words.

Apart from slippery words, is anything else slippery

prescribed or needed to get out of the cavern?

To get out of the cavern:

Mozart, airmail postcards, swings,

Falling into revolution

Well, then, so....

To get out of the cavern

power is needed, of course,

a love stronger than the cavern's power

a fascination stronger than the cavern's power.

The unknown, unknown, unknown

the unknown of that fascination like a woman's name

has to draw you more strongly than the cavern's power.












To get out of the cavern, I laugh

laughter bright as white heroin

so-called ether laughter

borne on laughter excessively black

spreading ridiculously far

capable of defeating the laughter like white heroin

that defies the cavern's laughter

that defies oblivion's laughter to get out



Springing up






Am I dead?

This time I? really dead

As I said that







Seen alone

At the earth's ultimate edge









Like the white whale's solemn breath

Quietly raising a waterdrop fountain

As it raises its head

Above the surface

As if receiving a gift from the god of pain

Even deprived of the bliss of sinking

Oh, I'm alive again

Springing up

As if trying to say Whew ?