He was in the Dark Cloud by Ra Hee-duk

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Mudeung Mountain, Photography by Seo Young-seok

He was in the Dark Cloud by Ra Hee-duk

I couldn’t see him,
so I couldn’t see the burn on his chest either

From the eastern window, I see Mudeung far away,
his dark green eyes look slack yet serene
but afraid of looking into the crater of  my memory,
I couldn’t come near him, not even once.
His eyes that witnessed such ghastly death:
how could they look so peaceful?
How could his wounded chest look so green?
But today he sat inside a dark cloud.

Though I couldn’t see him,
I woke to the sound of breathing nearby.

When I returned every night to the village tucked under his arm
and slept like a wounded animal,
he would walk down step by step
and watch over my giddy sleepy head.
I have seen him many times, yet it’s as if I didn’t see him.

As the dark cloud lifted,
I saw his back walking up.

Mudeung slowly, who returned to Mudeung–
though I couldn’t see his burn mark in the green,
my hand was stained by his wound.
I woke up tucked under his arm.

그는 먹구름속에 들어 계셨다 / 나희덕

그가 보이지 않으니
가슴의 火傷 또한 보이지 않았다

동쪽 창으로 멀리 보이는 無等,
갈매빛 눈매는 성글고 그윽하였으나
그 기억의 분화구를 들여다보기가 두려워
한 번도 가까이 가지 못했다
너무도 큰 죽음을 보아버린 눈동자가
저리도 평화로울 수가 있다니,
진물 흐르는 가슴이 저리도 푸르다니,
그러나 오늘은 그가 먹구름 속에 들어 계셨다

그가 보이지 않았지만
아주 가까이 숨소리에 잠이 깨었다

밤마다 그의 겨드랑이께 숨은 마을로 돌아와
상처입은 짐승처럼 잠이 들면
그는 조금씩 걸어 내려와
어지러운 내 잠머리를 지키다 가곤 했으니
그를 보지 않은 듯 나는 너무 많이 보아온 것이다

먹구름이 걷히자
천천히 걸어 올라가는 그의 등이 보였다

無等에게로 돌아가는 無等,
녹음 속의 화상은 보이지 않았지만
내 손에는 거기서 흘러내린 진물이 묻어 있었다
그의 겨드랑이께에서 깨어났다

 (Originally published in the Gwangju News, April 2012)

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.

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Passing by Happy Rehabilitation Center and the Hungry Bridge by Ra Hee-duk

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

 

Hakdong District, Gwangju, Korea

Passing by Happy Rehabilitation Center and the Hungry Bridge by Ra Hee-duk

Once or twice a day
I pass over the Hungry Bridge via the Happy Rehabilitation Center.
On the way to and from the house,
even when I am not happy at all,
or even when I am not hungry,
I have to pass these places.
At the center’s main entrance
there is an unusually high speed bump,
so even if I drive slowly my whole body still shakes.
When I pass among
the children with their faces distorted or legs limping
and a mother with a faint smile waiting across the street,
a thought arises
that living with a normal body is itself a kind of speeding,
but my car is already passing over the Hungry Bridge.
The bridge was named so because of its sunken middle,
and along the river banks low ceilings line up one after another.
Pumpkin vines on the shabby walls
and ivy on the bridge’s sides cross the world in low crawlings.
I pass the Changuk rice-cake shop across the Hungry Bridge.
The shop’s mill often has its mouth closed.

Happy Rehabilitation, Hungry Rice-cake–
crossing over a high or low bump of my heart,
the engine suddenly makes a clunking sound
as if to say that the road I travel to and from the house
should always pass through the language of contradiction.

행복재활원 지나 배고픈다리 지나/ 나희덕

하루에 한 번 혹은 두 번
행복재활원 지나 배고픈다리를 지난다
집에서 나와 집으로 가는 길
전혀 행복하지 않을 때도
배고프지 않을 때도 그곳을 지나야 한다
행복재활원 정문 앞에는
유난히 높은 과속지방턱이 있어
아무리 천천히 지나도 온몸이 흔들린다
얼굴이 일그러지거나 다리를 저는 아이들,
길 건너 마중 나온 엄마가 희미하게 웃고 있을 때
그 사이를 지나노라면 정상적인 몸으로
사는 일 자체가 일종의 과속이라는 생각이 들지만
차는 어느새 배고픈다리를 건너고 있다
가운데가 푹 꺼져 있어 붙여진 이름이라 하는데
천변을 끼고 낮은 지붕들이 늘어서 있다
누추한 담벼락에는 호박덩굴이,
다리 옆구리에는 담쟁이가 낮은 포복으로 세상을 건너고
배고픈다리 건너 창억떡집,
떡집의 제분기는 입을 다물고 있을 때가 많다

행복한재활, 배고픈창억,
그 높거나 낮은 마음의 턱을 넘으며
엔진은 갑자기 그르릉 소리를 낸다
집에서 나와 집으로 가는 길이란
늘 그 모순형용을 지나야 한다고 말하는 것처럼

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.

In the Island’s Sunlight by Ra Hee-duk


Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Sorokdo Island, Jeollanam-do, Korea

In the Island’s Sunlight by Ra Hee-duk

The sunlight of the island resembling a young deer was warm.
One can reach the island in five minutes by boat from Port Nokdong,
but you can only get to this place
after crossing unfathomable waves of the heart.
On the near yet far island,
the wounded deer lived.
Apparently inside the island’s sunlight
the sounds you could not hear anywhere else melted away.
But I can’t say I understood the light.
Just now, coming out of the autopsy room
the pouring sunlight seemed to shout something.
Boys who stand in a circle holding the net with their fingerless hands
produce a few fluttering fish.
The man who jumped into the sea, relied upon a raft.
The old lady knitted flowers with only three fingers left.
The sobbing  mother  had to meet her children only with her eyes,
without ever holding their hands, separated across a street.
The pine trees stood in the place where eighty four lives were burnt.
All lived as if they didn’t exist at all, not at all.
Didn’t they weep across the sea, overwhelmed only with their pain?
Under the sunlight, hot like a roar,
a crab with red legs was crawling.
The shadow of a forest where a lost crab hid–
the trees pruned by these rotting hands were beautiful.
The laughing sound of a young woman walking
with a wheelchair, carried her mother missing two legs.
I couldn’t enter into either the sunlight or the shadow.

그 섬의 햇빛 속에는/ 나희덕

어린 사슴을 닮았다는 섬의 햇빛은 따가웠다.
녹동항에서 배로 오 분이면 닿을 수 있는 섬이지만
수심을 알 수 없는 마음의 물결을 건너야만
이를 수 있는 곳, 그 가깝고도 먼 섬에
상처 입은 사슴들이 살고 있었다.
그 섬의 햇빛 속에는
다른 데서 들리지 않던 소리들이 녹아 있는 것 같았다.
그러나 그 햇빛을 이해했다고는 말할 수 없다.
시체를 해부했던 검시실을 막 나왔을 때
쏟아지는 햇빛이 무어라 외치는 것처럼 들렸을 뿐이다.
몽당손으로 그물을 잡고 둘러선 소년들이
파닥이는 물고기 몇 마리를 소출로 내놓은 모습도,
뗏목 하나에 의지해 바다로 뛰어들었던 남자도,
세 개밖에 남지 않은 손가락으로 꽃수를 놓던 노파도,
길 양쪽으로 갈라선 채 손 한번 잡지 못하고
눈으로만 피붙이를 만나야 했던 어미의 흐느낌도,
여든네 명의 목숨을 불태웠던 자리에 서 있는 소나무들도,
없는 것처럼 없는 것처럼 살아오지 않았던가.
바다 저편에서 단지 제 고통에 겨워 읊조리지 않았던가.
굉음처럼 따가운 햇빛 아래
다리 붉은 게 한 마리가 기어가고 있었다.
길 잃은 게가 숨어든 숲그늘,
썩어가는 손으로 전지해놓은 나무들은 아름다웠다.
두 다리가 없는 어머니를 휠체어에 태우고
걸어가는 처녀의 웃음소리.
나는 햇빛 속으로도 그늘 속으로도 들어갈 수 없었다.

(Originally published in the Gwangju News, April 2012)

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.

Renting a Room by Ra Hee-duk

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Chae-Pyong Song

Renting a Room by Ra Hee-duk

I wanted to rent a room somewhere in Damyang or Pyongchang,
to scurry in and out like a squirrel.
Every time I saw a quiet village, I peeped into it.
Passing by a house in JishilVillage,
I saw a yard with ordinary flowers blooming
between an old traditional house and a newly built annex.
Without knowing myself, I stepped into the open doors.
The ajeossi* was sharpening a scythe on the whetstone.
The ajumoni’s** kerchief was wet as if she just returned from the field.

“Uh, I would like to rent a room here.
I am looking for a space where I can come a few days a week to work.”

I carefully gestured toward the old house,
and the ajumoni responded with a smile.

“Well, the kids all left forSeoul,
an’ the house’s empty, ‘cause we live in the annex.
But our Yi’s family history is livin’ within,
so we’re still usin’ it with our hearts.”

Upon hearing these words I could see the clean floor
and the evening sunlight settling on it.
I simply turned around without further asking to rent.
Would the couple know
that I had already rented the room
when she told me their hearts still occupy that empty house?

*a common term for a middle-aged man
**a common term for a middle-aged woman

방을 얻다나 희 덕

담양이나 평창 어디쯤 방을 얻어
다람쥐처럼 드나들고 싶어서
고즈넉한 마을만 보면 들어가 기웃거렸다.
지실마을 어느 집을 지나다
오래된 한옥 한 채와 새로 지은 별채 사이로
수더분한 꽃들이 피어있는 마당을 보았다.
나도 모르게 열린 대문 안으로 들어섰는데
아저씨는 숫돌에 낫을 갈고 있었고
아주머니는 밭에서 막 돌아온 듯 머릿수건이 촉촉했다.
ㅡ 저어, 방을 한 칸 얻었으면 하는데요.
일주일동안 두어번 와서 일할 공간이 필요해서요.
나는 조심스럽게 한옥쪽을 가리켰고
아주머니는 빙그레 웃으며 이렇게 대답했다.
ㅡ 글씨, 아그들은 다 서울로 나가불고
우리는 별채서 지낸께로 안 채가 비기는 해라우.
그라제만은 우리 이씨 집안의 내력이 짓든 데라서
맴으로는 지금도 쓰고 있단 말이요.
이 말을 듣는 순간 정갈한 마루와
마루 위에 앉아계신 저녁 햇살이 눈에 들어왔다.
세 놓으라는 말도 못하고 돌아섰지만
그 부부는 알고 있을까,
빈방을 마음으로는 늘 쓰고 있다는 말 속에
내가 이미 세들어 살기 시작했다는 걸.

(Originally published in the Gwangju News, April 2012)

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.

A Door Opening by Ra Hee-duk

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

A Door Opening by Ra Hee-duk

A door opened
and the snow covered the heaven and earth for several days
and a thousand doors closed,
and all the feet were stranded.
Dry grasses
have buried their cold feet in the snow
and cannot even take a step.
Even sounds are trapped.
Somewhere I faintly hear a sound.
I squat down in front of water
because only the running water hasn’t closed its door,
though its edges are frozen.
With a thousand doors closed,
only the floodgate flowing toward you remains open.
Though I attempt to catch the snowflakes,
they disappear as soon as they touch water.
The wet snow within the wet eyes–
I, too, step toward the open door.

門이 열리고 / 나희덕

한 개의 門이 열려
며칠째 눈발이 천지를 메우더니
천 개의 門이 닫히고
발들은 모두 묶이고 말았네
마른 풀대도
시린 발목을 눈에 묻고
한 걸음도 내딛지 못하네
소리들도 갇혔네
어디선가 희미하게 들리는 소리,
가장자리는 얼어가지만
흐르는 물만이 門을 닫지 않아
나는 물소리 앞에 쪼그려 앉았네
천 개의 門이 닫히고
당신에게로 흐르는 水門만이 남았네
눈송이를 낚으려 하나
물에 닿는 순간 사라져버리네
젖은 눈 속에 젖은 눈,
그 열린 門으로 나도 따라 들어가네

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.

A Silkworm’s Room by Ra Hee-duk

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.

Tonight,
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

형광등이 꺼지고
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

오늘 밤,
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.

 

Prologue by Ra Hee-duk

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photography by Choi Il-ryoung

Prologue by Ra Hee-duk

When it hasn’t even warmed
one person’s heart,
there is a fire in my heart
that makes only thick smoke.
Isn’t it time for the flame to go out yet?

서시/ 나희덕

단 한 사람의 가슴도
제대로 지피지 못했으면서
무성한 연기만 내고 있는
내 마음의 군불이여
꺼지려면 아직 멀었느냐

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 at the 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.