That May by Kwak Je-gu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Melanie Steyn

Photography by Jang Jae-wan

That May by Kwak Je-gu

I walk along the riverbank
where milk vetch blooms profusely.
Where have I seen him?
A man in familiar dress
is walking up against the river current—
in dyed, battered military pants
with an out-of-season winter parka.
A few purple milk vetch blooms pinned
to his backpack
flutter in the wind.
He looks around twenty-three years old.
In his gaunt face his eyes are shining,
and we are brothers though I don’t know where we may have met.
Carried on the wind that brushes our clothes,
we greet each other passionately with our eyes.
The wind that carries us keeps asking, did we find our love
that May or did we lose it in the end?
The petals of the milk vetch flowers rise up all together.
The flowers that fell that May,
have they perhaps risen again as small nameless wild grasses
somewhere on this riverside?
Having risen up, are they burning
the spring riverbank with their bodies?
Looking back, I can see the back of the man in the distance,
and only milk vetch flowers shine as if out of breath
along the rolling river current.

그 오월에/ 곽재구

자운영 흐드러진
강둑길 걷고 있으면
어디서 보았을까
낯익은 차림의 사내 하나
강물 줄기를 거슬러 올라간다
염색한 낡은 군복 바지에
철 지난 겨울 파커를 입고
등에 맨 배낭 위에
보랏빛 자운영 몇 송이 꽃혀
바람에 하늘거린다
스물 서넛 되었을까
야윈 얼굴에 눈빛이 빛나는데
어디서 만났는지 알지 못해도 우리는 한 형제
옷깃을 스치는 바람결에
뜨거운 눈인사를 한다
그 오월에 우리는 사랑을 찾았을까
끝내 잊었을까 되뇌이는 바람결에
우수수 자운영 꽃잎들이 일어서는데
그 오월에 진 꽃들은
다시 이 강변 어디에 이름도 모르는 조그만
풀잡맹이들로 피어났을까
피어나서 저렇듯 온몸으로 온몸으로 봄 강둑을
불태우고 있을까
돌아보면 저만치 사내의 뒷모습이 보이고
굽이치는 강물 줄기를 따라
자운영 꽃들만 숨가쁘게 빛나고

Kwak Je-gu (곽재구) was born in Gwangju in 1954. He studied Korean literature at Chonnam National University. He made his literary debut as a poet with “At Sapyung Station,” which won the Spring literary award organized by the Joongang Daily in 1982. From 1981 to 1987, he worked as a member of “May Poetry,” a group of creative writers deeply inspired by the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. His poetry collections include At Sapyung StationJeonjang-po ArirngKorean LoversA Song of Seoul and The Clear Current. He currently teaches creative writing at Suncheon National University. In 1996, he received the Dongseo Literary Award.

The South I Long for by Kwak Je-gu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Kim Kyung-hwan (Youngchui Mountain, Yeosu)

The South I Long for by Kwak Je-gu (1954- )

Where is the place?
If you look, you will find the place azaleas bloom like tears
at a corner of the foot of the mountain.
If you call toward it,
putting together your big jointed hands
it answers with clouds mixed with tears–
the place where blood-filled tears gather again.
When you look back to the land you miss
which in deepening darkness lies alone, becoming sorrowful,
today who is calling it, thirsting for deep love?
Young poet, do you know
everywhere in this land
you can see clearly with open eyes:
in the autumn melody when the autumn wind blows,
in the spring melody when the spring wind blows,
in the quiet sound of the rising tide,
the undying, sorrowful powers of this land
that are like corn, green peppers,
and winter larva in snow,
come into bloom on our collapsed hearts.

그리운 남쪽/ 곽재구

그곳은 어디인가
바라보면 산모퉁이
눈물처럼 진달래꽃 피어나던 곳은
우리가 매듭 굵은 손을 모아
여어이 여어이 부르면
여어이 여어이 눈물 섞인 구름으로
피맺힌 울음들이 되살아나는 그곳은
돌아보면 날 저물어 어둠이 깊어
홀로 누워 슬픔이 되는 그리운 땅에
오늘은 누가 정 깊은
저 뜨거운 목마름을 던지는지
아느냐 젊은 시인이여
눈뜨고 훤히 보이는 백일의
이 땅의 어디에도
가을바람 불면 가을바람 소리로
봄바람 일면 푸른 봄바람 소리로
강냉이 풋고추
눈 속의 겨울 애벌레와도 같은
죽지 않는 이 땅의 서러운 힘들이
저 숨죽인 그리움의 밀물소리로
우리 쓰러진 가슴 위에 피어나고 있음을

Kwak Je-gu (곽재구) was born in Gwangju in 1954. He studied Korean literature at Chonnam National University. He made his literary debut as a poet with “At Sapyung Station,” which won the Spring literary award organized by the Joongang Daily in 1982. From 1981 to 1987, he worked as a member of “May Poetry,” a group of creative writers deeply inspired by the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. His poetry collections include At Sapyung StationJeonjang-po ArirngKorean LoversA Song of Seoul and The Clear Current. He currently teaches creative writing at Suncheon National University. In 1996, he received the Dongseo Literary Award.

The May of My Heart by Kwak Je-gu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

The May of My Heart by Kwak Je-gu (1954- )

I longed to open a green umbrella hanging
with a pink ribbon wrapped around it.
Standing in the spring wind blowing in,
I longed to collect flowers along the bank
and flowers of my heart,
and spray them toward the glowing sky of the South.
I longed to shout a poem that makes one burst into tears
toward the grass surging strongly
from the wound of a rocky mountain.
For that which was burned to bones and
for that which collapsed and then became more beautiful,
I longed to pin a few short flowers
onto the heart of the naked land after the snow melted.
And then I longed to become a star.
I longed to become the starlight of the eastern sky
which has a warm heart,
a star that descends on the dew-drenched, dawn grass
and with the incomprehensive fragrance of the sky
puts to sleep the sorrows of this land.
Ah, what should I do, my love?
On this May day in my heart,
only the azaleas hanging with black ribbons around their stalks
maniacally burn the spring mountains and streams.

내 마음의 오월/ 곽재구

분홍  리본이 달린
초록빛 우산 하나 펼쳐 주고 싶었다
불어오는 봄바람 속에 서서
강둑 위의 꽃들과
내 마음의 꽃들을 함께 모아
불빛이 타는 남녘 하늘에 뿌려 주고 싶었다
돌산 응어리에 거칠게 솟아난 풀들을 향하여
미치게 눈물 나는 시 한 구절 외쳐 주고 싶었다
불타서 뼈로 남은 것들과
쓰러져서 더욱 아름다운 것들을 위하여
헐벗은 땅 눈 녹은 가슴에
키 작은 풀꽃 몇 송이 꽂아 주고 싶었다
그리고 이제는 별이 되고 싶었다
이슬 적신 새벽 풀밭에 내려와
알 수 없는 하늘의 향기로 이 땅의 슬픔들을 잠재우는
가슴 뜨거운 동녘 하늘의 별빛이 되고 싶었다
아아 그러나 어찌하랴 사랑이여
내 마음의 오월 그 하룻날은
꽃대궁에 검정 리본을 매단 진달래만
미친 듯 봄 산천을 불태우고 있음을

Kwak Je-gu (곽재구) was born in Gwangju in 1954. He studied Korean literature at Chonnam National University. He made his literary debut as a poet with “At Sapyung Station,” which won the Spring literary award organized by the Joongang Daily in 1982. From 1981 to 1987, he worked as a member of “May Poetry,” a group of creative writers deeply inspired by the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. His poetry collections include At Sapyung StationJeonjang-po ArirngKorean LoversA Song of Seoul and The Clear Current. He currently teaches creative writing at Suncheon National University. In 1996, he received the Dongseo Literary Award.

 

 

Winter’s Dance by Kwak Je-gu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Painted by Kang Jang-won

Winter’s Dance by Kwak Je-gu

Before the first snow falls,
I must mend the memory window.
Brushing off the dust of despair and sorrow
piling up during the past seasons,
I must drive a new nail of waiting
into the edge of the creaking window frame.
I must take down the old curtain
hung without meaning,
light a small kerosene lamp
that won’t go out even in below-zero cutting wind,
and learn winter’s cold and shining dance.
The world is a lovely place depending how you look at it—
a place that dreams of the progress of a new world
where passionate love, labor, revolution, and touching go together.
Winter is rather warm if you embrace it.

겨울의 춤/ 곽재구

첫눈이 오기 전에
추억의 창문을 손질해야겠다.
지난 계절 쌓인 허무와 슬픔
먼지처럼 훌훌 털어내고
삐걱이는 창틀 가장자리에
기다림의 새 못을 쳐야겠다.
무의미하게 드리워진
낡은 커튼을 걷어내고
영하의 칼바람에도 스러지지 않는
작은 호롱불 하나 밝혀두어야겠다.
그리고… 차갑고도 빛나는 겨울의 춤을 익혀야겠다.
바라보면 세상은 아름다운 곳
뜨거운 사랑과 노동과 혁명과 감동이
함께 어울려 새 세상의 진보를 꿈꾸는 곳
끌어안으면 겨울은 오히려 따뜻한 것

Kwak Je-gu (곽재구) was born in Gwangju in 1954. He studied Korean literature at Chonnam National University. He made his literary debut as a poet with “At Sapyung Station,” which won the Spring literary award organized by the Joongang Daily in 1982. From 1981 to 1987, he worked as a member of “May Poetry,” a group of creative writers deeply inspired by the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. His poetry collections include At Sapyung Station, Jeonjang-po Arirng, Korean Lovers, A Song of Seoul and The Clear Current. He currently teaches creative writing at Suncheon National University. In 1996, he received the Dongseo Literary Award.

Gingko Tree by Kwak Je-gu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Gingko Tree by Kwak Je-gu

When I stand under your yellow umbrella
I am reminded of the eyes of the old Russian writer
who said, “the beautiful will cover the world.”
In the clear wind you purposefully
lower your two shining eyebrows,
and write beautiful love letters on the sidewalk
for those who have loved someone deeply.
It is mystical to read
someone’s old memories written on every leaf.
Love dyes even our hearts with golden memories.
On this street, nobody can sing hopelessness any more.
A few cocoons of the nettle worm twirl upon the naked branches.
Even though someone in power often misreads this world,
hangs upon the end of the branch his own nettle worm,
and steps illegally upon the soil once more,
when I stand under your yellow umbrella
looking up at several thousands of yellow people,
hope will engrave itself into our hearts as a burning image.

은행나무/ 곽재구

너의 노오란 우산깃 아래 서 있으면
아름다움이 세상을 덮으리라던
늙은 러시아 문호의 눈망울이 생각난다
맑은 바람결에 너는 짐짓
네 빛나는 눈썹 두어 개를 떨구기도 하고
누군가 깊게 사랑해 온 사람들을 위해
보도 위에 아름다운 연서를 쓰기도 한다
신비로와라 잎사귀마다 적힌
누군가의 옛 추억들 읽어 가고 있노라면
사랑은 우리들의 가슴마저 금빛 추억의 물이 들게 한다
아무도 이 거리에서 다시 절망을 노래할 수 없다
벗은 가지 위 위태하게 곡예를 하는 도롱이집* 몇 개
때로는 세상을 잘못 읽은 누군가가
자기 몫의 도롱이집을 가지 끝에 걸고
다시 이 땅 위에 불법으로 들어선다 해도
수천만 황인족의 얼굴 같은 너의
노오란 우산깃 아래 서 있으면
희망 또한 불타는 형상으로 우리 가슴에 적힐 것이다.

A Letter from Gageo-do Island by Kwak Je-gu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Gageo-do Island in Jeollanam-do, Korea

A Letter from Gageo-do Island

There is sea
and sunlight so clear and transparent
that it reveals the inside flesh of the thousand foot deep sea–
while sweet winds blew for three hundred sixty days,
the dances of the trees provided the most comfort

In the middle of the sea,
people longing for life live together;
some weave the chirpings of golden birds
in the shadow of the silver magnolia forest,
others go out to a distant sea
to lighten their world worries with an anchovy-catching song–
at night lovers become one body
to give birth to children of the dazzling sea

They can’t conceive of the neon lights
that glitter far away beyond the horizon;
they have no idea of those mirage-like stories–
who becomes a national congressman,
who becomes the golf course owner,
who drives a Mercedes

The husband gets turned on
by his wife’s whistling at water work,
and she can etch
his strong muscles hauling in the fishing net
on each full moon reflection

It is a place for birds who left the road,
who would like to stay here to hatch their chicks,
the place where people dream about love, more precious than freedom–
people live here,
splashing for centuries like old stories.

가거도 편지/ 곽재구

한 바다가 있었네
햇살은 한없이 맑고 투명하여
천길 바다의 속살을 드리우고
달디단 바람 삼백예순 날 불어
나무들의 춤은 더없이 포근했네

그 바다 한가운데
삶이 그리운 사람들 모여 살았네
더러는 후박나무 숲그늘 새
순금빛 새 울음소리를 엮기도 하고
더러는 먼 바다에 나가
멸치잡이 노래로 한세상 시름을 달래기도 하다가
밤이 되면 사랑하는 사람들 한 몸 되어
눈부신 바다의 아이를 낳았네

수평선 멀리 반짝이는
네온사인 불빛 같은 건 몰라
누가 국회의원이 되고
누가 골프장 주인이 되고
누가 벤츠 자동차를 타고
그런 신기루 같은 이야기는 정녕 몰라

지아비는 지어미의
물질 휘파람소리에 가슴이 더워지고
지어미는 지아비의
고기그물 끌어올리는 튼튼한 근육을
일곱물 달빛 하나하나에
새길 수 있다네

길 떠난 세상의 새들
한 번은 머물러 새끼를 치고 싶은 곳
자유보다 소중한 사랑을 꿈꾸는 곳
그곳에서 사람들이 살아간다네
수수 천년 옛이야기처럼 철썩철썩 살아간다네.

A Dawn Letter by Kwak Je-gu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photographed by Chae-Pyong Song

A Dawn Letter

When I wake at dawn
and watch the stars twinkle,
I feel somewhere deep in the world
a wellspring of love arises that never dries  up.
In this quiet time when nobody watches,
the spirits of suffering, pain, and thirst sleep–
only ghosts of those whose eyes have reddened twinkle.
Beauty opens the window of dawn
and meets the hot place deep in our hearts.
Again I must begin to learn how to suffer.
To listen to a free bird in the just breaking morning,
to smell the warm sunlight, wind, and fragrant lilac,
to write a dawn letter of one word:
that I love you with all my heart.
When I wake up at dawn
and watch the stars twinkle,
I feel somewhere deep in the world
a wellspring of hope swells that never dries up.

새벽 편지 (A Dawn Letter)

새벽에 깨어나
반짝이는 별을 보고 있으면
이 세상 깊은 어디에 마르지 않은
사랑의 샘 하나 출렁이고 있을 것만 같다
고통과 쓰라림과 목마름의 정령들은 잠들고
눈시울이 붉어진 인간의 혼들만 깜박이는
아무도 모르는 고요한 그 시각에
아름다움은 새벽의 창을 열고
우리들 가슴의 깊숙한 뜨거움과 만난다
다시 고통하는 법을 익히기 시작해야겠다.
이제 밝아올 아침의 자유로운 새소리를 듣기 위하여
따스한 햇살과 바람과 라일락 꽃향기를 맡기 위하여
진정으로 너를 사랑한다는 한마디
새벽 편지를 쓰기 위하여
새벽에 깨어나
반짝이는 별을 보고 있으면
이 세상 깊은 어디에 마르지 않는
희망의 샘 하나 출렁이고 있을 것만 같다.