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Hawk at Sunrise, Jeong Hong-Rae, public domain.

Language: Korean
Poet: Heeduk Ra
Translator: Won-Chung Kim & Christopher Merrill
Region: South Korea

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The cold ankles of dried stalks

Two poems by Heeduk Ra, translated by Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill

Heeduk Ra was born in Nonsan in 1966 and educated at Yonsei University. She has
published five books of poetry and two of prose, for which she has received many honors, including the Suyeong Kim Literary Award, Today’s Young Artist Award, the Modern Literature Award, the Ilyeon Literary Prize, and the Isan Literary Award. She teaches creative writing at Chosun University, and is regarded as one of the best poets in Korea.

Won-Chung Kim is a professor of English Literature at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea, where he teaches contemporary American poetry, ecological literature, and translation. He earned his PhD in English at the University of Iowa in 1993. He has translated Chiha Kim’s Heart’s Agony and Choi Seungho’s Flowers in the Toilet Bowl. He will soon publish translations of Hyonjong Chong’s Trees of the World and an anthology of Korean nature poets.

Christopher Merrill has published five collections of poetry, including Watch Fire, for which he received the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; several edited volumes and works in translation; and four books of nonfiction, The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer, The Old Bridge: The Third Balkan War and the Age of the Refugee, Only the Nails Remain: Scenes from the Balkan Wars, and Things of the Hidden God: Journey to the Holy Mountain. He directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

문이 열리고

한 개의 문이 열려
며칠째 눈발이 천지를 메우더니
천 개의 문이 닫히고
발들이 모두 묶이고 말았네
마른 풀대도
시린 발목을 눈에 묻고
한 걸음도 내딛지 못하네
소리들도 갇혔네
어디선가 희미하게 들리는 소리,
가장자리는 얼어가지만
흐르는 물만이 문을 닫지 않아
나는 물소리 앞에 쪼그리고 앉았네
천 개의 문이 닫히고
당신에게로 흐르는 수문만이 남았네
눈송이를 낚으려 하나
물에 닿는 순간 사라져버리네
젖은 눈 속에 젖은 눈,
그 열린 문으로 나도 따라 들어가네

A Door Opens

A door opens,
filling the universe with snow.
Then a thousand doors close,
stopping traffic.
The cold ankles
of dried stalks, buried in snow,
don’t take a step.
All sound is imprisoned,
only a distant, feeble sound reaches me.
The borders are freezing,
but the water hasn’t closed its doors yet.
I crouch by the sound of the water.
A thousand doors close.
Only the gate of water leading to you is open.
I try to fish out the snowflake
disappearing in the water.
Wet snow in a wet eye,
I enter the open door.

가을이었다

가을이었다. 뱀이 울고 있었다. 덤불 속에서 뱀이 울고 있었다. 방울소리 같기도 하고 새소리 같기도 한 울음소리. 아닐 거야. 뱀이 어떻게 울겠어. 뒤돌아서면 등뒤에서 뱀이 울었다. 내가 덤불 속에 있는 것인가. 뱀이 내 속에서 울고 있는 것인가. 가을이었다. 뱀이 울고 있었다. 덤불에 가려 뱀은 보이지 않았다. 덤불은 말라가며 질겨지고 있었다. 그는 어쩌자고 내게
말을 거는 것일까. 산길을 내려오는데 울음소리가 내내 나를 따라왔다. 뱀은 여전히 덤불 속에 있었다. 가을이었다. 아무하고도 말을 주고받을 수 없는 가을이었다. 다음날에도 산에 올랐다. 뱀이 울고 있었다. 덤불 속을 들여다보면 그쳤다 뒤돌아서면 다시 들리는 울음소리. 덤불이 앙상해질 무렵 뱀은 사라졌다. 낯선 산 아래서 지낸 첫 가을이었다

It Was Autumn

It was autumn. A snake cried in the thicket. The sound was like the tinkle of a bell or a birdcall, not a snake. Snakes don’t cry. But when I turned around the snake cried, “Am I in the thicket? Is the snake crying inside me?” It was autumn. A snake was crying. But I couldn’t see it because of the thicket. The leaves in the thicket were dropping, the thorns sharpening. Why did it try to speak to me? When I
climbed down the mountain, the sound followed me. The snake was still in the thicket. It was autumn. I couldn’t talk to anyone. I went to the mountain again the next day. The snake was crying. When I looked into the thicket, the crying stopped. But when I turned around I heard it again. When the thicket was bare, the snake finally disappeared. It was the first autumn I endured under that strange
mountain.

 

These poems appeared in Issue 6 of Circumference. Volume 3, Issue 2 • Autumn 2007 © 2007 circumference, Inc.