Morning DewDuring what profound meditations last night has this morning dew been born translucent on a blade of grass? Was it agony? A drop of life - starlight flesh and bones of sorrows. Who could give birth to this round-shaped gem? Is pain not soft and cold like morning dew? Love is - a brief climax, a momentary precious droplet, into which even the sound of a breath cannot penetrate. After the long journey through the night - to bring what message to us does this morning dew form on the leaves of grass, precariously holding the transparent but transient moment?
Putting On MakeupPainting my lips scarlet in the vain mirror stands a princess made up for all seasons . my small face an arena of international capitals, a place where fictitious dramas staged by the manufacturers of cosmetic illusions converge, a miniature territory where the flags of all nations lavishly flutter. Sexy brown is the color a la mode this fall. Putting rouge on my cheeks, as Chanel instructs, adhering to the myth of a glamorous woman, I see the conspiracy is almost complete. Occasionally frightened by the slavery in my mind . yet once again bewitched by the artificial perfume that enchants, by the hallucination drawn in softly-toned colors . my protest is only feeble and sporadic. To stop the winged chariots of time does a body need to be adorned with such a sad fragrance? With an Estee Lauder eye-liner strenuously drawing a dark fence around her eyes and with a drop of Christian Dior behind her ears the colonized femme ÃÃante is now ready to sortie! Like an actress in a tragedy, she makes her entrance slowly.
His WifeOn the night of the fireworks display at the theater I saw his wife. Around her neck she wore a thin necklace with tiny little gems, almost inconspicuous. Perhaps it was a gift from her husband for her birthday, or for commemorating the birth of their first baby, or to reconcile after a quarrel, probably . or for her taking care of her sick mother-in-law now fully well after lying in bed for so many years. As evening stars are embroidered on the seashells on the shore I noticed on his wife the delicate, yet tenacious vestiges of her husband . those patterns slowly woven into her with the lapse of time, into which no outsiders can possibly infiltrate. But I am just a stranger from a remote place passing by. Suppose I imagine an unexpected, romantic affair with her what would possibly happen? The moment I saw his wife I realized our relationship would be inevitably reduced into a melodrama, or a hopeless gust of infidelity. That woman who was quietly standing behind him who probably bought his suits . was as inconspicuous as unnoticed cornerstones. But that night, among the crowds, I recognized her instantly.
Song for SoldiersPerhaps you wouldn't know but all the women born in this land once fell in love with a soldier. All young men in this land once went to the DMZ in military uniform bearing a gun against their brothers in the North learning intense yearning and the bitter-sweet agonies of life. All the women in this land once wrote consolatory letters to soldiers when young, went to visit them at an army camp when grown up. But their love does not always ripen. Often in the lapse of time their paths have crossed. Years later, when women encounter their old flame in civilian suits in the sunset of their middle-aged life on the road of no return, they silently cry a little, shy and embarrassed finding a rustier barrier than the DMZ blocking the path of life. Perhaps you wouldn't know but all the women in this land once fell in love with a soldier.
The BoyThe taxi I barely caught at the terminal was old and dirty. Upset at something the taxi driver didn.t start up right away when I uttered again, .Samsung-dong!. Then violently tossing his burning cigarette butt outside the window he stepped on the accelerator like mad and began swearing to himself. A former owner of a sea-food restaurant at Samsung-dong he went bankrupt as the rent shot up double one day. On the trembling hands of this hostile bullet-fast taxi driver my life helplessly depended until I safely arrived at my destination. Desperately trying to humor him I appealed that we may be from the same hometown, detecting a familiar accent in his local dialect. He retorted he once dated a girl back home. While pondering .would it be a satirical poem or a lyric. . suddenly I saw a romantic boy in him. One summer he suffered from unrequited love with a girl from Seoul. For a shabby country boy she was too glamorous, too far away to reach. Then one autumn day miraculously a letter arrived from her. While not daring to open it, enthralled and overwhelmed, one of his friends suddenly snatched it and threw it into the river. While driving through the currents of city lights at night these days, he still sees the boy in his mind silently sobbing, hopelessly watching the torrent that gulped the letter. At last I safely arrived at Samsung-dong and got off. But the taxi driven by the boy seemed stuck there forever.
A ValleyAmongst the thick woods of gray apartment buildings a valley has just been opened. Anyone who enters this urban cornucopia inside a huge mart decorated with colorful banners is greeted by a shopping cart. Like well-tamed animals people follow the cart that steers them past all the tempting show windows before they finally reach the exit. Like migratory birds, people flock together piling up food in their trolleys. Tricked by the word "credit" they pick up the merchandise and throw them into their carts. They don.t have to pay now anyway. Those who arrive at the cashier, through the meandering aisles of commodities, look like .friendly purchasing delegates.. Standing in line and proudly signing their credit card slips, they look happy to be in this procession of consumers. Like migratory birds flocking inside a net, They rush to the new valley everyday in a crowd.
To the Spider PoetSpider, I am well aware how desperately you embrace the empty space with such immense vanity. Last night in a roar of thunder and lightning the howling of thousands of wolves. This morning in the green woods those newly born green giants. In that wonderland to hang a few drops of glamorous tears, to engrave a dazzling rainbow in space. Oh my poet! What resplendent silk threads you are weaving! How busily you immerse your pen in the hot blood of your heart!
LiesSuppose I meet my old flame again in a drinks place somewhere in South Seoul and confess in a trembling voice, "I've never forgotten you," would it be true? We both know that it's a lie - and yet, it's not quite untrue, either. When we imbibe a few drinks our past lives dissolve like a lie - or like the truth. When we come to realize the transience of all the waves of words washed away Then who are we - A poet?
Letter from the AirportPlease leave me alone for one year, my dear, I'm on my sabbatical now from our marriage. We've come all the way since we announced our wedding pledge to stay together whether in sorrows or in pleasures until death do us part. At an oasis in the desert, there we settled down, deeply rooted and grew branches. But please don't try to follow me for a year, my dear. A soldier needs an absence of leave, A worker needs a holiday. As taciturn scholars go on sabbatical for replenishment, I take my well earned leave now. So please don't. try to find me for a whole year, my dear. I'll be back after finding myself.
HusbandNeither my father, nor my brother - He's the man standing somewhere in between. Someone who is closest - and yet so remote. When I have insomnia from an affair I am inclined to ask for his advice - Oops! Everything but this! So I silently turn away from him in bed. Sometimes an archenemy, other times the only man on earth who loves my children so dearly. So I prepare dinner for him again - the man I have dined with so many times. the man who taught me warring so often.
Grinding Coffee BeansStill I love useless things - songs and yearnings wounds and raindrops and autumn I love, Mother. Still I write poems while consuming more black coffee than regular meals, falling asleep with books in my arms. I love wandering more than my job. Still I love pine trees standing in strong winds, lonely stars and deserts, wild storms. I know I could make money in wars and sewers. Some of my friends have already left for a city groping for money in the urban sewer but yearning for a home-like place where good-natured people frocked like saints in white robes though unable to read a single line of the Bible or a Buddhist scripture peacefully farm the fields. Still I am plowing dry earth, Mother. Daffodil
No one knowsshe who is floating in the air today as the tender soul of a feather sat in meditation on the roadside full of dust last spring. While trees straightened up their green spines on the ground. While seaweed built glass castles under the water she lamented, with her face on the ground, listening to the sound of the dead people under the earth. But like the highlanders who are rumored to leave home to become a light being akin to a Buddha when they reach a certain age, one day she arose lightly on a late spring day with a charming smile in her breath leaving flowers and chairs. When she ascended like the soul of a feather standing with her knees deeply bent her place on the ground was clean - only some scattered earth, as the burial has just been done. Looking around the grass - no traces of her.
Autumn of ManI am my own God on this autumn day. With all the words I have I am the God of my own. Autumn silently fell between the stars, between you and me. As the primordial sword of God nicely cuts and chops, everything glows in solitude. Each and every autumn leaf those free, solitary birds. So hard to render those leaves and birds into human language. So hard to write a poem on this autumn day, as hard as to move a mountain. Being myself, I am already complete. Birds, stars, flowers, leaves, mountains, clothes, food, home, earth, blood, body, water, fire, dream, island and you and I, we are already poetry. On this autumn day at last - I am the God of my own.
Appreciating My HometownI am grateful for my hometown. With all those trees it taught me green. With all those birds it made me sing. With all those rains it made me shed tears, that fertilize all lives. I am grateful for my hometown. With all those rivers it showed me flowing time. With all those butterflies it made me miss my beloved ones, far away. And with all those roads it made me a poet.
When the Jewel Glitters on Your FingerWhen you read this poem you may forget the tears of the poet. When the jewel glitters on your finger you may forget the dark, parched skin and the torn fingernails soiled by mud of a woman wearing a torn rag, washing for gold, with a shabby basket. Who has been to this realm of profound silence composing poems, excavating tears? How sad his confession was, and how loud the thunder roared. Whether the jewel may glitter breathlessly you do not need to know. When a sudden fragrance is spread on the wind. When a gorgeous poem looms in the mind. When the jewel is glittering on the finger . you may deign to forget the blooded tears of the poet.
When I Want to Become a DonkeySometimes I want to become a donkey. Sometimes I want to roam endlessly even though it's not a moonlit night. In the whirlwind of a sand storm, whipping my own back, stamping my foot on the ground, I want to blink like a donkey. Why did our ancestors a thousand years ago build this winding road instead of a straight one? Carrying the pleasures and sorrows of life in every nook and cranny of my body, and savoring it little by little, I want to be part of a caravan always on the move. Feeling the weight on my back as precious as you, I want to read it as a holy book. Each time I step on a protruding stone, like the keen throbbing of my heart I want to knock on the ground profoundly.
The Age of SuccessWhat shall I do? I've become rich! Abundant food in the fridge, Tons of brand-new dresses in the closet - happiness is ubiquitous! Chinese cuisine delivered instantly by phone. A comfy car carrying me everywhere - Taking the wheel I could go anywhere. At last, I've become successful! When I quit poetry all my miseries will be gone. When I buy a pearl necklace to wear everything will be okay. No more twilights and green pastures in my heart. No more tears clearer than morning dew. No more solitude creeping secretly in like an alley cat announcing the bankruptcy of poetry. Shall I start the venture business of happiness? Shall I dart like crazy - driving a powerful car like a bomb at bullet speed into the dark city?
Tale of a HouseWomen are born with a palace of their own. So they don't need to build a house on earth. Only men build a house in this world. Behold! Men bleeding all through their lives carrying cement or bricks on their backs to build a house - eternal construction workers wearing a touch of everlasting pious grief. Often they bear their lot amidst swearing and liquor bottles strewn on the work site, plotting to conspire and justify the equal distribution of wealth. But those men whom we love spend their lives on the battlefield building a barrack soon to be demolished. They say that men often return to the palace, to their birthplace to die. History is full of inscrutable mysteries: Imagine a species born with a palace in its body. No wonder women have been constantly persecuted - and invaded.
Song of ArrowsWhen I say this I always cry a little - In your lifetime you use words more than fire and water, or even money. So you need to gather words and use them well. People compare words not to a sword but to an arrow. For like an arrow words never return once used. In the pointed, thick woods of arrows there's a heart pierced by an arrow of words spreading poisons or fire. When I find love with fresh new words like the first chapter of a new-found scripture I cry a little, my Adam's Apple trembling. I will use words more than fire and water and money. For words are my most precious fortune. When I say this I always cry a little.
Encounter with a shrimp*Not having the heart to cut it into pieces I quietly put down the knife. On a plane bound for Paris the crescent-shaped shrimp on my meal tray reminds me of my peninsula home. Way up in the sky at an immense height almost in the dreamy Milky Way what predestined fate has brought us to meet - a shellfish from the sea and a human from the land? Perhaps our encounter was prearranged by some hidden threads of fate silently weaving a dream from the clouds - from your earnest yearning and my eager passion. So instead of a knife and fork I pressed my soft, warm lips on the naked pink body - O my beloved Kyunwoo!*
* Translator's note: In a Korean folk tale a cow herder (kyonwoo) and a spinster (jiknyo) break the rule of forbidden love and, as a punishment, are only allowed to see each other on July 7 every year on a bridge in the Milky Way. If it rains on that day, which is very likely, Koreans believe that the couple weeps with joy.