Tag Archives: poem

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

Coming Out of the Old Palace One Day by Kim Soo-young

(translated from the Korean by geul)

Why do I only fly into a rage at little things
instead of at that king’s palace, instead of at
   the debauchery that went on there
I fly into a rage because I got a hunk of fat for the 50-
   won rib I ordered
I fly into a petty rage and cuss out the pig-faced
   bitch owner of the seol-leong-tang* place
Petty cussing out

Just once, upright,
for the writer dragged away
demanding the freedom of the press and protesting
   soldiers sent to Vietnam
which I haven’t managed to do
Is it that I can only despise the night watchmen who
come back three, four times to get their 20 wons?

My petty tradition is of long-standing and now obstructs me
   as sentiment
So, for example, this happened
When I was at the 14th field hospital in the POW
   camp in Busan
an informant seeing that I was making sponges
   and folding gauze with the nurses
made fun of me – shouldn’t I be in the prison police,
   how could a man do such work?
In front of the nurses

My resistance now isn’t a bit different from making
the sponges and folding the gauze
At the howling of a dog, I yelp
I lose to the tantrums of a whipper snapper
The leaves falling from a ginkgo tree are
   a bed of thorns that I traverse

In any case I stand aside and do not stand
at the peak, very probably I stand a bit off to the side
And I know that standing aside a bit is a bit
of a cowardly thing to do!

And so I resist, in this petty manner,
the barber
not the landlord but the barber
not the county clerk not even the village clerk
but the night watchman, all for 20 wons, 10 wons
Isn’t it hilarious? For 1 won

Sand, how small am I?
Wind, dust, grass, how small am I?
Really, how small am I . . . ?

poem in the original Korean

*beef and rice soup

The Road There by Kim So-wol


Thinking about
“I miss him”
I miss him


Should I just leave
Again once more. . .


The crows in the mountains, the field crows
that the sun’s setting in the western mountain.


The river ahead the river behind
the flowing water:
“Come, come and follow, let’s follow”
flows and keeps flowing.


(translated from the Korean by geul)

Self-portrait by Yun Dong-ju


Going round a mountain, alone I seek out a well, out-of-the-way in farm country,
and quietly look down.


Inside the well the moon is bright, the clouds flow by, the sky
spreads out, the blue wind blows, and there is fall.


And there is a young man.
Somehow the young man turns hateful.


Thinking as I return, the young man becomes pitiful.
When I go back to look again, the young man is there just as before.


Again the young man turns hateful.
Thinking as I return, I begin to miss the young man.


Inside the well the moon is bright, the clouds flow by, the sky
spreads out, the blue wind blows, there is fall,
and the young man is there like a memory.


(translated from the Korean by geul)

A Drifter’s Spring by Kim So-wol


Tossing about, over mountain,

Across winding streams,

Walking the road

By green grass, red flowers

what pains.


Maple trees with their yellow leaves,

Early green willows,

The sun’s already set

The wind that brushes over.


Mist rising from valleys

Sinking between mountains,

The fading shadow of the

Drifter going round the peaks.


A lonely tavern on a mountain road,

Ah how lonesome.

The weary word

Of the peddler already there.


Since the sun is setting

shadows summoned,

Today how far?

After dark,

I’ll stop and rest,



In the grassy meadow steam rises,

Birdsong in the moonlight,

In the dead of silky night

I think on my beloved, as ever.


(translated from the Korean by geul)

Love of My Life



Love of My Life came of humble origins, I

might even say “mean”

possibly conceived amongst the swivel racks

of the public library

a mating of Harlequin and Silhouette

but no —

into the mix you must throw in the Gothic twins

Heathcliff and Catherine

their love infernal though not necessarily carnal

fed Love of My Life

til it grew strong enough

to stand front and center.

Til everything – ambition, spontaneity

and love itself

bowed to Love of My Life.

“Love of My Life”

mantra repeated


all argument ended.




New Year’s Day



there was a question I wanted to ask the barista

the one with the sharp elbows, tattooed forearms

cleopatra eyes

and ink black pig-tail that stuck out straight

who instinctively knew I pinched pennies

and did not take offense

who had somehow gathered a world of worldliness into her thin body

more than I could ever hope for

and a light-fingered humanity come from scraping by and making do

who knew how to be a type without a crack

still, I wondered what there was when the eye-makeup came off

the question doesn’t matter anymore

“what would you have been in 1908?”

and I?


Imagined Poverty


You are six or seven

small enough to fit into a cardboard

box.  The rooftop is an expanse

of concrete, empty except for the

box against the parapet, set on its

side wherein you sit, huddled.  You

in your red winter coat with the

fake sheep fur on the inside –

your brother has one just like it – and

your boy’s bowl cut.  You look

out on the blank concrete, you can’t even

see over the edge.  The wind blows cold

but there’s nothing to blow there save

the flaps on the box.  You hug yourself

and imagine you are poor.

All you have in the world: the box,

the concrete, the cold wind.

What nectarous pity you feel

for the you who are poor, this

feeling you squeeze from your imagination –

you know both pain and pleasure.  Is life and

intimation of life.




I’m sleepy, I’m sleepy

I sit here dozing

under a down sleeping bag

waiting for neither words nor epiphanies

squinting at the last flash of triumphant day

waiting for its decline and night,

so I can surrender

so I can lie down

to sleep.