Sumjin River: Part One by Kim Yong-taek

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

"Sumjin River," painted by Song Man-kyu

Sumjin River: Part One by Kim Yong-taek

Follow the Sumjin River during the drought.
Even though those wretches steal it time and time again,
brooklets of Jeolla-do collect like capillaries and flow
in the dusk, on the darkening  riverbank.
It decorates the clover like white rice, and
the milk-vetch like charcoal fire.
It draws in darkness
to the riversides of villages that don’t appear on maps
and to plants that don’t appear in plant encyclopedias,
and ceases the darkness.
It hangs up a flower-patterned lamp
that enlightens the darkening brows.
As it flows and flows, and gets choked up,
it calls in the branch that flows into the Youngsan River
and, out of joy, embraces it enough to crush its bones.
Follow the Sumjin River
that turns around the plump Jiri mountainside,
and see if its water will dry up
when those wretches rush in and steal it away.
Watch Jiri Mountain wash its face in the dusky river
and rise up with hearty laugh to look at Mudeung Mountain
to ask if it is true, and Mudeung Mountain glowing in the sunset
will nod its bright brow and agree with Jiri Mountain.
Follow the Sumjin River to see if it will dry up
just because some wretches steal it away.

섬진강 1/ 김용택

가문 섬진강을 따라가며 보라

퍼가도 퍼가도 전라도 실핏줄 같은
개울물들이 끊기지 않고 모여 흐르며
해 저물면 저무는 강변에
쌀밥 같은 토끼풀꽃,
숯불 같은 자운영꽃 머리에 이어주며
지도에도 없는 동네 강변
식물도감에도 없는 풀에
어둠을 끌어다 죽이며
그을린 이마 훤하게
꽃등도 달아준다
흐르다 흐르다 목메이면
영산강으로 가는 물줄기를 불러
뼈 으스러지게 그리워 얼싸안고
지리산 뭉툭한 허리를 감고 돌아가는
섬진강을 따라가며 보라
섬진강물이 어디 몇 놈이 달려들어
퍼낸다고 마를 강물이더냐고,
지리산이 저문 강물에 얼굴을 씻고
일어서서 껄껄 웃으며
무등산을 보며
그렇지 않느냐고 물어보면
노을 띤 무등산이
그렇다고 훤한 이마 끄덕이는
고갯짓을 바라보며
저무는 섬진강을 따라가며 보라
어디 몇몇 애비 없는 후레자식들이
퍼간다고 마를 강물인가를.

(Originally published in Gwangju News, December, 2011)

Kim Yong-taek (1948- ) was born in Imsil, Jeollabuk-do. With lyrical (often regional) vernacular, he has written many poems about undamaged agricultural communities and the profound beauty of nature. His poetry collections include The Sumjin River, A Clear Day, Sister, The Day Is Getting Dark, The Flower Letter I Miss, Times Like A River, That Woman’s House, and Your Daring Love. He also published essay collections such as A Small Village, What’s Longed for Exists behind the Mountain, A Story of the Sumjin River, and Follow the Sumjin River and Watch. He was awarded the Kim Soo-young Literary Award (1986) and the Sowol Poetry Award (1997). He currently teaches at Woonam Elementary School.

"Sumjin River," painted by Kim Seon-soo

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