Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Darcy Brandel
A Silkworm’s Room by Ra Hee-duk
When the fluorescent light was turned off
And the incandescent light was illuminated on the low table,
Father at last became our father.
Unable to sleep, I tossed and turned,
Perhaps because the room was too small for the family in the summer night,
Perhaps because the fifteen-watt light was too bright,
Perhaps because Father’s shadow covered the whole ceiling,
Or perhaps all of the above, I cannot remember now.
When his steel pen made a scratching sound all night long
with half-open eyes I saw
the way he changed a hot bulb by wrapping it with the towel on his neck,
the way he stretched out his sleepy leg and massaged it,
the way the paper shade over the light bulb burned into black,
the way he rubbed his elbows and knuckles that had been turning into purple.
Did he know that I saw him? Did he know I wanted to escape from the room?
Father wanted to write himself, but
with his steel pen copied letters one by one.
It was only after a long while that I realized
that with the silk he drew out of the worm
he was writing a long letter to the world.
when all the fluorescent lights of my heart are turned off,
my family has gone to sleep, and only an incandescent light is solitarily illuminating,
when my father inside me is writing instead of me
with the end of the silk that Father drew out already held in my mouth,
I become a copier who transcribes the life of my father,
and return to sit in the hot cocoon.
Waiting for the wind of that time to blow more deeply into this unbearable summer,
waiting for the incandescent light to enter my eyes more deeply—
a light sometimes too dark, sometimes too bright,
I gaze up at the ceiling vacantly where a shadow wavers.
I, too, write a long letter that I cannot share with anybody.
누에의 방 /나희덕
백열등 하나가 앉은뱅이책상 위에 켜지면
아버지는 비로소 우리들의 아버지가 되었다
잠 못 이루고 뒤척이곤 했던 것이
여름밤 식구들의 좁은 잠자리 때문이었는지
십오촉 백열등 빛이 너무 밝아서였는지
천장을 가득 채우던 아버지의 그림자 때문이었는지
그 모든 것 때문이었는지 지금은 잘 기억나지 않는다
가리방 긁는 소리가 밤새 들리던 밤
목에 둘렀던 수건을 감아 뜨거운 전구알을 갈던 모습이며
쥐가 난 다리를 뻗어서 두드리던 모습이며
전구 위에 씌웠던 종이갓이 검게 타 들어가던 모습이며
자줏빛으로 죽어 가던 손마디와 팔꿈치를 문지르던 모습이며
내가 반쯤 뜬눈으로 보고 있었다는 것을
아버지는 알고 계셨을까 그 방을 벗어나고 싶어했다는 것을
글을 쓰고 싶어 하셨지만
글자만을 한 자 한 자 철필로 새겨 넣던 아버지,
그러나 고치 속에서 뽑아낸 실로
세상을 향해 긴 글을 쓰고 계셨다는 걸 깨달은 것은
그 후로도 오랜 뒤였다
내 마음의 형광등 모두 꺼지고 식구들도 잠들고
백열등 하나 오롯하게 빛나는 밤
아버지가 뽑아내던 실 끝이 어느새 내 입에 물려 있어
내 속의 아버지가 나 대신 글을 쓰는 밤
나는 아버지라는 생을 옮겨 쓰는 필경사가 되어
뜨거운 고치 속에 돌아와 앉는다
그때의 바람이 이 견디기 어려운 여름 속으로
백열등이 너무 어둡게도 너무 밝게도 생각되는 내 눈 속으로
더 깊이 더 깊이 들어오기만을 기다리면서
그림자 어른거리는 천장을 우두커니 바라보는 것이다
아무에게도 건네지 못할 긴 편지를 나 역시도 쓰게 되는 것이다.
Ra Hee-duk (나희덕) was born in 1966 in Nonsan, Chungcheongnam-do. She received her Ph.D. in Korean literature from Yonsei University in 2006. She has published six books of poetry: To the Root (1991), The Word Dyed the Leaves (1994), The Place is Not Far (1997), That It Gets Dark (2001), A Disappeared Palm (2004), and Wild Apples (2009). She also published one collection of essays, A Half-filled Water Bucket (1999), and a volume of literary criticism, Where Does Purple Come From? (2003). Among her many literary awards are the Kim Suyoung Literature Award (1998), Modern Literature Award (2003) and the Sowol Poetry Award (2007). Growing up in orphanages, because her father was an administrator at an orphanage, she developed her strong sympathy for the less fortunate others. She currently teaches creative writing at Chosun University in Gwangju.