The Specialist by Ki Hyeong-do

translated from the Korean by geul


The man who moved in was a strange person
The walls around his house were all made of glass

Out of a moment’s error
The careless children playing in the alley
smashed the glass wall that
reflected the abundant sunshine

But children, it doesn’t matter
the glass can always be replaced
play in the alley, as much as you want

The face of the child who broke the glass had turned bright red
but the other children, who had a strange expression on their faces,
soon enjoyed themselves as children will
The child who insisted
How about building the wall out of sturdy pine board
was immediately exiled from that lovely alley

The glass wall was broken anew each day
After a certain requisite period, all the children of the neighborhood
became the man’s faithful subordinate

One day when the man removed the glass walls, it became clear
that the alley was the place that received the least amount of sunlight
the children, standing in a line,
carried bricks back and forth in silence


poem in Korean


Lump of Sorrow by Kim So-wol

(translated from the Korean by geul)

Incense offered up kneeling.
A small lump of sorrow in my chest.
In the shadow of the slivered moon raindrops weep.
A small lump of sorrow in my chest.


poem in Korean


Bak Shi-bong’s residence, Yudong, Namshineuiju by Baek Seok

(translated from the Korean by geul)


(image source: Soojung Cho Art Gallery)



One day I found myself without a wife, and

without the house where my wife and I lived,

far from the bosom of my parents and siblings,

wandering the end of some lonely and windy road.

As it was getting dark soon,

and the wind blowing harder, the cold coming on,

I rented a frigid room, whose floor was covered in old reed mats,

in a carpenter’s home.

And so, alone I thought of many things day and night

in this cold and damp room that smelled of mold,

and when a bit of burning straw was brought in a clay dish,

I held it, warming my hands, writing some letters in the ashes meaninglessly,

not leaving the room, lying down,

with my hands linked behind my head, lolling about,

I kept chewing the cud of my sadness and foolishness.

When my heart was too full,

and something hot welled up in my eyes,

and my face grew hot and red with shame,

I felt I must die from the weight of my sadness and foolishness.

But after a while I lifted my head,

and gazed at the whitish window and door, or the high ceiling,

then I thought about how hard it is to push myself forward by my own strength or will,

and I thought that there was something higher and bigger that was rolling me along,

In this way a number of days passed,

during which, in my turbulent heart sadness, sighs and things that would settle gradually turned to sediment and settled,

and when only lonely thoughts came to me,

and at evening when the windblown sleet would pelt the window and door,

on such evenings I would move even closer to the brazier, get on my knees,

I would think of that solid and untainted buckhorn tree that’s said to be so uncommon,

standing by its lonesome far off on some mountainside next to a rock,

snowed on as the dark comes on, rustling of the wind

on the dry leaves as the snow falls on them.




* The title is written in a way in which a person renting a room in another’s home might have addressed an envelope.



poem in Korean

Rose-tinted Life by Ki Hyeong-do

(translated from the Korean by geul)

A man in his prime opens the door and enters
As he takes off his hat, his salt and pepper hair,
like his shabby overcoat, is revealed
He pushes all that is his into a creaky wooden chair
he wraps his healthy and greedy hands
around a ridiculously small cup
Has he ever, even once, with those large hands,
grabbed a likely opponent by the scruff of his neck
The man is silent, instead of moving his eyes aimlessly,
he is exploiting certain experiences, focusing on one place,
To unravel the knot of crowded events, how many cruel customers did he glower
like that of those who have tasted doubt and temptation many times over
Those shoulders that resolutely refuse any and all disorder of the body
those lips that seemed to be moved by a certain jealousy
ears hidden by a strand of hair, that certainly would have dreamed of being the
However, who would dare to take on that man’s responsibility
The man continues to remain silent, he pulls something from his thick coat
as if he’d just thought of it for the first time
thrusting aside the dogged resistance of loneliness,
as if steeled for any kind of showdown
the man looks around, the expression that walks above his face
He pushes all that is his into a creaky wooden chair
with it he begins to dig into the tabletop
his burly frame bending forward, ploddingly
but anxiously, supplying strength to his own command

I hate life


poem in Korean

Chungnamdangjin Woman by Jang Jeong-il

(translated from the Korean by geul)

Where could she have gone, the woman from Chungnamdangjin?
She who left me after violating me
snatching the virginity defended for twenty-three years and gifting me with syphilis
Chungnamdangjin woman, I think I’m going to have to hate you
Turning me into a man with her ardor like a power plant
I don’t think I can hate her
Chungnamdangjin woman, my wish was to marry the woman I first slept with
My life’s wish was to live all my life with the woman I first held in my arms
living together without breaking up
having a child with the woman whom I first locked lips with
Naming my first daughter that the woman I first kissed lays in my arms was my my life’s wish
But you got away – “I’m a very bad woman”
Taking a taxi you got away – “Don’t look for me”
Taking a yellow taxi you vanished with your eyes all red
I should’ve memorized the number on the back of the taxi
Where did you hide, Chungnamdangjin woman, with a drop of my saliva
on your small lips, how can you smile with pleasure?
You who said a man and a woman didn’t need a place to lie down
Chungnamdangjin woman, you who laughed haha saying you lived
near a power plant as a child, giggling, Chungnamdangjin woman
Maybe that’s why at the Dangjin thermoelectric power plant in my dream
A woman’s face as black as coal shooting up terrifyingly inside the furnace
Chungnamdangjin woman’s face
under a street light, round like her face, I am standing, I stand tall with regret
Actually what I wanted, what I secretly wanted was that she would go away
Chungnamdangjin woman, she stands under the dim lamp
of the standing-only bar under the lamp that’s freckled with fly droppings
Does that mean I abandoned you rather than you abandoning me?
Or did we secretly abandon each other? and why?
And why is the fate of our 1960 generation such as it is?
The love I made with the Chungnamdangjin woman making the beast with two backs
will become a sordid poem bruited about by idle people
spread around between heaven and earth until one day the rumor reaches the velvety
ears of that Dangjin woman who’ll giggle
And the rumor will reach the ears of my future fiancee
and when she asks in a soft voice “Was she pretty? How was she?”
Love, I shall fall into the abyss of memory, Chungnamdangjin woman
she whose name I’ve forgotten




poem in Korean


Flower (꽃) by Ki Hyeong-do (기형도)

(translated from the Korean by geul)


On a day when my soul flames up

in the garden where your heart grows sick

I will become your blood

hotly spewed all the night

and rise up as a flower.


If it’s you

I would gladly have my waist cut


I will sew up your heart

with my close breath


If I lay my head in the place where the wind blows

I could happily fall asleep standing.


poem in Korean






I like all frustrated things by Kim Kyeong-mi

(translated from the Korean by geul)


Sleet that failed to become plush snow
Cow wheat that failed to become magnolia blossoms
The call that doesn’t come and the plundered savings
*** account.
Your letter
that passes me by to go to another address


I like the attitude of the frustrated
With the forehead to the floor
Things that have looked down at the world of roots
Transparently like a window pane
Like a god in heaven who gets on all fours and looks


poem in Korean

Crying in Andong by Jang Jeong-il

(translated from the Korean by geul)


A city I seemed to have visited before at some point. Korea’s north central region surrounded by a wall-like mountain forest, a harlequin wind passes between low buildings, and ice cream wrappers fly around mixing with dust and dirt.
***North central region –
it’d be worthwhile for those coming to a small city like this to think about what a
***big deal America is.
Here too are parched gullets glugging down Coca Colas. There’s keen interest in watching controversial foreign films. As well as pop songs clang clang clanging


A small city in the north central region. Wherever
you go, in Korea’s tea shops there are middle-aged men. There are middle-aged gentlemen who enjoy playing the political soothsayer; they relay their diagnosis, suspicions, and predictions regarding the reformist powers, successors, and the
***preposterous fall of a chaebol.
Wherever you go in Korea you’ll find the irresponsible debater.
There exist middle-aged men, who, laughing broadly, claim that if everyone in
***the world becomes a bourgeois they would be happy.
Whichever city you go to in Korea you’ll find in the place with problems, middle-aged men with problems and scandal. Old trash


Already the little girls in this place cover the top of their hands with the end of a trendy long sleeve. The latest cultural waves trying to get closer to the infantile are rolling over the tops of little girls’ hands in this place.
Not only the tops of the hands of little girls. All cities are being Seoulfied.
All cities being the latest Seoulfied city. The small city that must forever chew the
***cud of the Seoul lifestyle
Over the vacant small city, in which those set on success have left, clenching their teeth, the night, left over after Seoul has swooped in, falls without climax.


Then like new recruits who’re in for guerilla training, they call out the name of their wife once. They call out the name of their first daughter. The cunning peddlers, who’ve laid out their extrordinary commerical know-how in this unfamiliar city, look for low cost motels. Book salesmen, salesmen of men’s colognes. Calendar salesmen. One. Two. They look for cheap motels. Those failed drifters from Seoul, the Seoul of those who’d found success rising from the third-rate motels of small cities. They will lay down a
***day’s fatigue like grass.


A city I seemed to have visited before. Surrounded by a wall-like mountain forest. In Korea’s north central region sleep falls like snowy sleet.
However, there is remorse that doesn’t succumb to sleep.
Why did I come to this place? Where
is this place? The end? The end?
Yes, you’re finished. Salesman
is your end. It’s the end of your life!
The man in his prime buries his face in the pillow
and bursts into tears. The small remote city in the north central region. In a shabby motel in a cold city. The damp blanket causes the full grown man. The man in his prime from Seoul, to burst into tears.


poem in Korean

Vallejo and his pants


Vallejo meditated on ways to make his pants last



In the end you kneel
before physics


when it gets too cold in Michigan
stray kittens lose their paws to frostbite
(what do they do after that?)


Armenians shed family
on the long march
like your lover doing a striptease
all the way to the bedroom
(what is obscene?)


Throw darts at life at history
it’s hard to miss an atrocity

Memo to Myself by Kim Kyeong-mi

(translated from the Korean by geul)


About the time the sunflower, exhausted from the sun, leaned its thin neck on the wall to rest a while. I woke up and found that I was twenty-four years old.


God was a haughty hide-and-seek game, in which even though I hid, fretting up to my hair, He didn’t make an effort to find me, so it was always less enjoyable; and as other people seemed, as always, like pointless tears.


In the twenty-fourth year autumn arrived as sound of voices fumbling. Exterior to dreams, each day someone seemed to be standing outside so I ran out and opened the door to find the cosmos flower greeting me shaking the dew from its shoulders as if nothing were happening. I wanted to embrace its thin waist, come inside and have a child. A child with red gums like the inside of a pomegranate.


It might have been all right to have become a little bit happier at twenty-four, in which year nothing happened, after all. It might have been enjoyable to have engaged the young man with the thick lips, who seemed like an outlaw, in a battle of lies. Perhaps now only a child with teeth like snow could smile at this much happiness and deception remaining. Though it appears nothing is happening.


Could not a flower bloom on a cliff could you not walk on the river could you not continue a letter left unfinished if you suddenly wake to find yourself twenty-five? I am sorry you have not heard from me for a long time. It was because I wanted to live lightly like a piece of thread. Without being weighed down by anything at all.


poem in Korean