When a Branch Crosses over the Wall by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Hye Hyon

When a Branch Crosses over the Wall by Jung Kut-byol

When a drooping willow branch crossed over the wall,
it may not have been her work alone.
If the distant root—whose face she hadn’t seen even once,
and the flowers and leaves–who had put their flesh together and washed their hands of each other,
hadn’t supported her as one body,
the branch would have just shivered forever alone.

Without the persistent rain that had fallen for five long days,
without the unruly snow storm that had brought them closer together,
crossing over the wall
wouldn’t have been as exciting for the branch.
Without the forbidden wall
that had made the branch hesitant
and shut off the outside world,
the drooping willow branch would not have been able to dream
about going over the wall,
crossing over the wall’s body and climbing over the crown of the wall’s head.

So when a magnolia’s branch or a persimmon’s branch
or a rose vine or an ivy, any branch for that matter,
crosses over the wall,
the wall was a gamble as well as a guide to enlightenment,
pulling them out of obscurity.

가지가 담을 넘을 때/ 정끝별

이를테면 수양의 늘어진 가지가 담을 넘을 때
그건 수양 가지만의 일은 아니었을 것이다
얼굴 한 번 못 마주친 애먼 뿌리와
잠시 살 붙였다 적막히 손을 터는 꽃과 잎이
혼연일체 밀어주지 않았다면
가지 혼자서는 한없이 떨기만 했을 것이다

한 닷새 내리고 내리던 고집 센 비가 아니었으면
밤새 정분만 쌓던 도리없는 폭설이 아니었으면
담을 넘는다는게
가지에게는 그리 신명나는 일이 아니었을 것이다
무엇보다 가지의 마음을 머뭇 세우고
담 밖을 가둬두는
저 금단의 담이 아니었으면
담의 몸을 가로지르고 담의 정수리를 타넘어
담을 열 수 있다는 걸
수양의 늘어진 가지는 꿈도 꾸지 못했을 것이다

그러니까 목련가지라든가 감나무 가지라든가
줄장미 줄기라든가 담쟁이 줄기라든가
가지가 담을 넘을 때 가지에게 담은
무명에 일 획을 긋는
도박이자 도반이었을 것이다

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Stubborn by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Kim Jae-gon

Stubborn by Jung Kut-byol

A sparrow secretly builds its nest below the black kite’s, its natural enemy
A scrub fowl makes its nest under the hot sand a hundred times as big as its body
A gorilla builds its one night home in the woods only when it’s time to go to sleep
A raccoon furtively borrows a badger’s space to sleep
A flying squirrel makes a home inside a tree’s wound
A honey bee or a termite builds hives connecting home with another home
A water spider builds an empty air home in water
A cockroach encroaches into crevices of people’s houses
An earwig crab builds its mobile home with a shell

All the animals in the world
build their homes to fit their bodies,
covering their bodies with roofs
and building the walls with their bodies
They build them as their bodies wish
and as their bodies remember

Today I also build a home, but I bring in more than I need,
expanding one more square foot; how appalling it must be, to witness how I live.

고집/ 정끝별

참새는 천적인 솔개네 둥지 밑에 몰래 집을 짓는다
무덤새는 뜨거운 모래 밑에 제 몸 수백 배 집을 짓는다
고릴라는 잠이 오면 그제서야 숲속 하룻밤 집을 짓는다
너구리는 오소리 집을 슬쩍 빌려서 잔다
날다람쥐는 나무의 상처 속 구멍집을 짓는다
꿀벌과 흰개미는 집과 집을 이어 끝없는 떼집을 짓는다
수달을 물과 물 중간에 굴집을 짓는다
물거미는 물속에 텅 빈 공기집을 짓는다
바퀴벌레는 사람들 집 틈새에 빌붙어 산다
집게는 소라 껍데기에 들고 다니는 집을 짓는다

세상 모든 짐승들은
제 몸을 지붕으로 덮고
제 몸을 벽으로 세워
제 몸에 맞는 집을 짓고 산다
제 몸이 원하는 대로
제 몸이 기억하는 대로

큼직한 집을 짓는다 살아 있는 하루가 끔찍하다
하나 더 들여놓고 한 평 더 늘리느라 오늘도 나는

Jung Kut-byol is a professor of Korean literature at Myungji University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 1988, she has worked as both a poet and a critic. She has published four poetry collections, My Life: A Birch Tree (1996), A White Book (2000), An Old Man’s Vitality (2005), and Suddenly (2008) and two collections of critical essays, The Poetics of Parody (1997) and The Language of Poetry Has a Thousand Tongues (2008). She has also edited an anthology titled In Anyone’s Heart, Wouldn’t a Poem Bloom? 100 Favorite Poems Recommended by 100 Korean Poets (2008).

Rising Tide by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Kim Jae-gon

Rising Tide by Jung Kut-byol

At night, just barely,

two boats slide in,
lowering their anchors at the port;
two naked boats
lie side by side
touching each other’s wounds

We are safe–we are fortunate, oh,
to see the ocean calming down

밀물/ 정끝별

가까스로 저녁에서야

두 척의 배가
미끄러지듯 항구에 닻을 내린다
벗은 두 배가
나란히 누워
서로의 상처에 손을 대며

무사하구나 다행이야
응, 바다가 잠잠해서

Jung Kut-byol is a professor of Korean literature at Myungji University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 1988, she has worked as both a poet and a critic. She has published four poetry collections, My Life: A Birch Tree (1996), A White Book (2000), An Old Man’s Vitality (2005), and Suddenly (2008) and two collections of critical essays, The Poetics of Parody (1997) and The Language of Poetry Has a Thousand Tongues (2008). She has also edited an anthology titled In Anyone’s Heart, Wouldn’t a Poem Bloom? 100 Favorite Poems Recommended by 100 Korean Poets (2008).

The Benevolent Oak Tree by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

The Benevolent Oak Tree by Jung Kut-byol

Insects live inside an oak tree that is hollow–
inside it they nest, hiding their naked bodies.
In the hollow oak tree mushrooms and mosses live–
they take root there and bloom.
In the hollow oak tree woodpeckers live–
there they grind their beaks and peck insects.
In the hollow oak tree bats live–
they sleep there dangling upside down.
In the hollow oak tree owls live–
they make nests there and hatch their babies.
In the hollow oak tree badgers and foxes live–
they burrow in and make it their home.

Because of all the people living in the hollow house
listening to the hollow music
eating the hollow rice
of the hollow oak tree,
mothers, with hollow insides, withstand strong winds–
mothers, with hollow insides, withstand big famines.
They shake off big snow with their slightly drooping branches–
they rot away their whole lives–
the insides of all the mothers in the world.

속 좋은 떡갈나무/ 정끝별

속 빈 떡갈나무에는 벌레들이 산다
그 속에 벗은 몸을 숨기고 깃들인다.
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 버섯과 이끼들이 산다
그 속에 뿌리를 내리고 꽃을 피운다
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 딱따구리들이 산다
그 속에 부리를 갈고 곤충을 쪼아먹는다
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 박쥐들이 산다
그 속에 거꾸로 매달려 잠을 잔다
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 올빼미들이 산다
그 속에 둥지를 틀고 새끼를 깐다
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 오소리와 여우가 산다
그 속에 굴을 파고 집을 짓는다

속 빈 떡갈나무 한 그루의
속 빈 밥을 먹고
속 빈 노래를 듣고
속 빈 집에 들어 사는 모두 때문에
속 빈 채 큰 바람에도 떡 버티고
속 빈 채 큰 가뭄에도 썩 견디고
조금 처진 가지로 큰 눈들도 싹 털어내며
한세월 잘 썩어내는
세상 모든 어미들 속

Jung Kut-byol is a professor of Korean literature at Myungji University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 1988, she has worked as both a poet and a critic. She has published four poetry collections, My Life: A Birch Tree (1996), A White Book (2000), An Old Man’s Vitality (2005), and Suddenly (2008) and two collections of critical essays, The Poetics of Parody (1997) and The Language of Poetry Has a Thousand Tongues (2008). She has also edited an anthology titled In Anyone’s Heart, Wouldn’t a Poem Bloom? 100 Favorite Poems Recommended by 100 Korean Poets (2008).

The World’s Spine by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

A man giving his shoes to a homeless girl in Rio de Janeiro

The World’s Spine by Jung Kut-byol

Someone gives me her bosom,
Someone supplies me money,
Someone offers me her lips,
Someone lends her shoulders to me

To provide is
to lift you up to a higher place,
stroking the end of your branches that shove in blindly,
shivering on a deserted mound;
it is to wait for you, lying down low
waking up the root end of you, who has been buried alone in the ground

Like providing water to a rice field
Like offering tears to a wound
Like serving as a bottom to a bottomless bottom–
to become holy rice
to an open mouth
that has sowed and reaped a life

rather than saying I love you

세상의 등뼈/ 정끝별

누군가는 내게 품을 대주고
누군가는 내게 돈을 대주고
누군가는 내게 입술을 대주고
누군가는 내게 어깨를 대주고

대준다는 것, 그것은
무작정 내 전부를 들이밀며
무주공산 떨고 있는 너의 가지 끝을 어루만져
더 높은 곳으로 너를 올려준다는 것
혈혈단신 땅에 묻힌 너의 뿌리 끝을 일깨우며
배를 대고 내려앉아 너를 기다려 준다는 것

논에 물을 대주듯
상처에 눈물을 대주듯
끝모를 바닥에 밑을 대주듯
한생을 뿌리고 거두어
벌린 입에
거룩한 밥이 되어 준다는 것, 그것은

사랑한다는 말 대신

Jung Kut-byol is a professor of Korean literature at Myungji University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 1988, she has worked as both a poet and a critic. She has published four poetry collections, My Life: A Birch Tree (1996), A White Book (2000), An Old Man’s Vitality (2005), and Suddenly (2008) and two collections of critical essays, The Poetics of Parody (1997) and The Language of Poetry Has a Thousand Tongues (2008). She has also edited an anthology titled In Anyone’s Heart, Wouldn’t a Poem Bloom? 100 Favorite Poems Recommended by 100 Korean Poets (2008).

My Life: a Birch Tree by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Dul Chil Re

My Life: a Birch Tree by Jung Kut-byol

Did long deep coughs
make something break out?
On the pit of my stomach a yellowish bruise has spread.

A birch tree stands along the road, as though punished.
What spread inside the tree
that made such a white color emerge?
A bony, frosted body
that sheds leaves, flowers, and all the colors of the world,
that buries within the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the lights of the world.
An entangled heart with even the veins laid bare.
The winter birch tree completes its bruise,
casting its desolate shadow on frozen ground.

I embrace a charred house of lungs–
a magpie hovers around for an eternity.

자작나무 내 인생/ 정끝별

속 깊은 기침을 오래하더니
무엇이 터졌을까
명치끝에 누르스름한 멍이 배어 나왔다

길가에 벌(罰)처럼 선 자작나무
저 속에서는 무엇이 터졌길래
저리 흰빛이 배어 나오는 걸까
잎과 꽃 세상 모든 색들 다 버리고
해 달 별 세상 모든 빛들 제 속에 묻어놓고
뼈만 솟은 저 서릿몸
신경줄까지 드러낸 저 헝큰 마음
언 땅에 비껴 깔리는 그림자 소슬히 세워가며
제 멍을 완성해 가는 겨울 자작나무

숯덩이가 된 폐가(肺家) 하나 품고 있다
까치 한 마리 오래오래 맴돌고 있다

Jung Kut-byol is a professor of Korean literature at Myungji University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 1988, she has worked as both a poet and a critic. She has published four poetry collections, My Life: A Birch Tree (1996), A White Book (2000), An Old Man’s Vitality (2005), and Suddenly (2008) and two collections of critical essays, The Poetics of Parody (1997) and The Language of Poetry Has a Thousand Tongues (2008). She has also edited an anthology titled In Anyone’s Heart, Wouldn’t a Poem Bloom? 100 Favorite Poems Recommended by 100 Korean Poets (2008).

The Rust Tree by the Road by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photographed by Im Chang-jin

The Rust Tree by the Road by Jung Kut-byol
(길 섶 녹나무) 

1

In front of the window of my house
A road stretches out;
by the road a rust tree
grows up every night.

2

All the pedestrians
who can’t remember the roads they have walked
become rusty. Don’t we, the poor, witness this
down the roads we come and go upon daily?
The houses crumble down
and the roots of the rust tree move
freely,
punching big holes in the young one’s lungs,
collapsing the building’s scaffolding.

At first, the rust tree’s root is
fatigue gathered on the pedestrian’s soul,
dust descending on the bread crumbs of memory,
and paralysis and amnesia—
the whole picture of our love—
on the sky that we all possess
we make an open graveyard and lie crowded. 

Already at the window
rust leaves touch the lips.
When one by one they cover the roof,
children will become hags—
even your lover
will wither.
It’s fatal for the big tree, producing
rust bloom flowers.
Haven’t we seen the houses on the road
and the earth with words
rusted away?
On every road we traverse
rust trees bloom like the dead of night—
even the birds of childhood
and people change.

3

Beside me, about my love and around my house,
blooming in a crowd, ah, the smell of rust.

(Originally published in WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, Volume 39, Numbers 3 & 4, Fall/Winter 2011)

Jung Kut-byol is a professor of Korean literature at Myungji University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 1988, she has worked as both a poet and a critic. She has published four poetry collections, My Life: A Birch Tree (1996), A White Book (2000), An Old Man’s Vitality (2005), and Suddenly (2008) and two collections of critical essays, The Poetics of Parody (1997) and The Language of Poetry Has a Thousand Tongues (2008). She has also edited an anthology titled In Anyone’s Heart, Wouldn’t a Poem Bloom? 100 Favorite Poems Recommended by 100 Korean Poets (2008).