한국문학번역원 로고

kln logo

twitter facebook instargram



  1. Lines
  2. Poetry

Ten Poems by Yi Won

by Yi Won Translated by Seth Chandler December 7, 2023

불가능한 종이의 역사

  • Yi Won
  • 문학과지성사
  • 2011

Yi Won

Yi Won debuted in the pages of Segye-ui Munhak in 1992. Her poetry collections include When They Ruled the Earth, A Thousand Moons Rising Over the River of Yahoo!, The World’s Lightest Motorcycle, The History of an Impossible Page, Let Love be Born, and I Am My Affectionate Zebra. She has received the 2005 Contemporary Poetics Prize, the 2002 Contemporary Poetry Award, and 2018 Hyeongpyeong Literary Award. She works as a professor of creative writing at Seoul Institute of the Arts.



Stone, some things thus far emerged and hardened

Light, some things leaking out, spreading their flesh apart

Wall, some things thus far pushed

Path, some things thus far thrown

Window, until no longer touching

Outside, until surging upward

In, until there’s nowhere to fall

Blood, something all mixed up

Ear, something that crawled out

Back, something the world missed

Color, something dug up, something rooted out

Me, only now emerging from the mirror,

      so many things to bury in the mire

You, already emerged from the mirror,

       and so many things buried in the air

Eye, something broken, something shattered

Star, something torn

Dream, something soaked in blood

Seed, the darkest something

Egg, something shut tight, something fierce, even there

Bone, something left alone, even there

Hand, something branching out, even there

Mouth, something puckering closed, even there

Door, impatient, belated, overdue

Body, unsightly confession of shadow

God, something attached to the fingertips

Flower, vomit

Water, brought to a boil

Knife, brimming to the throat

White, fluttering


The History of an Impossible Page

(Moonji, 2012)



The floors the walls must be the silhouette of death, so can you imagine how much the shadows’ backs must hurt?


When dancers prance and float through the air, can you imagine how the sinews of shadows contract with abandoned solitude?


When a man or child flings themself from the railing, can you imagine the feelings of the shadow who failed to jump up as well?


When the body disappears into thin air and the shadow still remains, can you imagine the shadow’s thoughts in that moment?

The History of an Impossible Page

(Moonji, 2012)


Apple Store


The trees become forests intent upon splitting shadow


The birds made their sounds where they got their beaks stuck


The flowers grown in different directions are all bunched in one vase


The old mother crawls into the heart and


The chair never stops tempering the air


Until sour and sweet blent together in one place


The apple grew round


Let Love Be Born

(Moonji, 2017)


You Were All There in My Dream


You were all there

So I was busy


All of you and me were busy


Me and all of you were busy meeting eyes

Busy moving feet, busy stopping

Busy making betweens. Diverging moments shined


I heard the sound of an absent button falling and rolling

My and all of your rustling legs

Buried to the knee


All of you were there

So I was busy, but it wasn’t a bad dream


I wanted to call you over but

You were all there

So I was handing out empty plates


I liked you all holding your plates

Me and all of you appeared

Wearing white shirts and holding white plates


The light was uncut but

A diagonal stroke ran across the shirt


The dream of all of you and me continued

The garden had grown more spacious at some point

All of you and I arrived at a hill


Below were rows of high-rise buildings with windows

Like gaping holes in their bodies


The white plates took you all over there

All of you crowded there with your white plates


You were all there in my dream

So I was busy. It wasn’t too bad


You were all there, but the white plates were still stacked

All of your shadows were much more than that

They didn’t follow into the linear world, your

Shadows. I understood them


You Were All There in My Dream

(:든 vol. 8, 2019)


Small People Community


On Saturday, I went to the restaurant. It was just me and the owner. The owner chopped cabbage, and I looked out the window. Our necks turned in two directions, and in the dimly lit restaurant the owner and I were mottled shadow. I set my spoon and chopsticks side by side in front of my right hand.


On Friday, I went to the restaurant. The radio was on. I met eyes with the owner. The eyes smiled. When the talking stopped, the music started. There was a rumble in the owner’s throat as they chopped cabbage, and I thought of the curviness of a cross section.


On Thursday, I went to the restaurant. The TV was turned on to the news. I was the only person in the restaurant. I looked back and forth between the three items on the menu. Outside the window was all sunlight. The owner never came. I counted the hydrangeas I’d seen on the way over.


On Wednesday, I didn’t go to the restaurant. I stood out front for a minute. I couldn’t see inside. Only the feathery cirrus in the distance and me with my nearby solitude. Someone passing by asked if there was still time to eat. I said you could go in if it’s open.


It was overcast, then rained for a bit before clearing up when I wanted to stop by another district on Tuesday. I wandered all around an apartment complex. I imagined a convenience store after midnight where birds could go in, and loosening trees lining the street. It was late at night.


On Monday, I went into the restaurant where there were only two tables, where both tables were empty, where the sound of chopping cabbage piled up steadily, where the silence was rising. I sent the sands of a fifteen-minute hourglass through two turns, then lifted my fractured heel and left.


The light coming in over the chopping cabbage sometimes looked like drops of blood. Spreading and seeping. Once my mind was set on the sound of chopping cabbage, the food was never ready. I took the white napkin spread barely over the top of the silence and folded it in half and then half again while I waited.

Small People Community

(Literature and Society vol. 134, 2021)


Friendly Gathering


One person brought four plums  The first person to reach for the plums used their right thumb and forefinger to pick up the least red one, and the second person took the reddest one  They looked at each other and each took a bite  Tart and sweet, said the first person who’d reached for the plums  There was no way of knowing what the second person thought  There were supposed to be four people, but one person showed up late and ate two plums  They ate one quickly, then looked at the plate with a mischievous smile and ate the other  The one who didn’t get a plum wasn’t at the table yet, having said only that they hadn’t written a single email today  The ones who’d eaten only one plum were worried that they were now short one plum  The one who’d eaten two plums was wearing a white shirt and beige shorts  There were no plums on the plate, but the plate was wet, and one person’s plum pit was next to their right arm, and the other person’s plum pit was wrapped up in a tissue next to their right arm, too  Who knows what happened to the plum pits of the person who ate two, and a little bit of silence and a little bit of peace stood in place between the clouds floating inside  The person who’d eaten the less red plum stretched their hands over their head  Whether they’d wear the clouds splitting above them as a hat was a problem for another time  Then there was the scuttering sound of a chair sliding across the floor  Was it the one who ate two plums getting up from their seat?  The one who wrote today’s emails finally arriving?  The one trying to throw off this damp sack?  There was no way of knowing  The angle was set where the sound came from


Friendly Gathering

(Siindongne, Aug. 2019)


Shared Kitchen


Here there’s glass on three sides  Anyone passing by can see in  It’s common to look in and see someone sitting at the end or middle of the long rectangular table, eating alone, looking back like a reflection in a mirror  On the other side of the table is the sink, on the other side of the sink is the induction burner, on the other side of the induction burner is the refrigerator  The shared side-by-side refrigerator is divided into shelves assigned to each person  Label things with your name on a sticky note  The king oyster mushrooms, chargrilled ham, and carton of ten eggs on the second shelf all have the same name on them, so they belong to that name  Anything without a name on it and anything on the Everyone Shelf belongs to everybody  On the Everyone Shelf, there’s cabbage browning where it’s been cut and a carrot or two rolling around  You can’t put your name on anything on the Everyone Shelf, or on anything that belongs to everybody  In the world of Everyone, if someone eats too much, the rest can’t eat  This way, if there’s bread and it’s not getting eaten, you eat it without knowing who gave up their portion  This way, whenever you open the fridge, you strangely find your eyes wandering to the Everyone Shelf before your assigned shelf or your sticky-noted ingredients  This way, no one considers your hesitation, when faced with the ingredients, to be a prayer for everybody  This way, you always pause and wonder if you used ingredients with someone else’s name on them, even though you didn’t  Here, the rule is to wash the dishes you used and clean up like you were never here  Here, chairs are pulled out from the table as if you’ll be right back, and slippers with the same size and design lie flipped over on top of each other, and a few are strewn all over  Until the feet leave those slippers, this is the shared kitchen


Shared Kitchen

(Webzin Gongsisa, June. 2020)



All Language


The problem is it’s hard to distinguish the sound of footsteps  The one who went near the cat had a funeral to go to and left in a hurry and the one afraid of the cat had to stay  The problem is welcoming footsteps and frightened footsteps both thud-duh-duh  The cat comes running at the sound of footsteps but even if I raise my voice and shout “I’m not ks I’m oo” happy voice and scared voice both swing up up and away  It wasn’t a game of ring toss with foot and neck but if I stomp thump my footneck shakes the cat stops in its tracks  Oh this works thump thump if I stomp around like this  The problem is the signal “come here” and “get away from me” have the same feel  When I rush inside thud-duh-duh and shut the glass door the cat stops its four paws and waits  When I knock on the glass it stares  The problem is it’s hard to distinguish the gesture “go away” from the signal “stay here”  The cat sits outside the sliding glass door and when I knock on the glass and wave it away it whines meooow meooow  The problem is “ooo ooo” drops like marbles but doesn’t roll and if there’s a sudden pitter patter my footsteps get soaked and my ankles don’t get soaked

All Language

(파란 vol. 14, 2019)


It seems the small class is finally starting  Of the mind things would look a lot better if people shrank a bit, somehow or other  It seems that small, funny feeling is finally coming on  Tend to believe the light is a note the plants the birds never forget to bring back  Never once encountered the start or end of light, but tend to believe light is keeping an eye on humans passing through  That watching is already declaring  That emptying what’s within is already action  What’s superior is what’s vaporized, erased, often wholly obscured  There’s a rustling sound  There’s a pecking sound  Like the shadow of a hatchet dangling by a thread, it seems the small class is finally starting  Can’t interpret the note, can’t estimate its intentions, but tend to think it’s honest to categorize human into arm, leg, torso, head



(Webzin View vol. 57, 2022)

Rare Earth Equation*


There are no humans here   No cars   There are many cats  It might seem like a lie but there isn’t a single tree, so there’s no shade  No matter how far you go, just blistering sun   There are many cuts wrapping round and round, and green grass like a razor’s cutting edge  There are lots of aphasic clouds Lots of sadness stuffed into corners  So the cats must slink through the burning sunlight   They strike a human pose as they doze beneath the crumbling walls, and the grass gradually turns a pale-blue green as it grows to resemble horror   Here where there’s no people, where the sound of swaying grass fills the air, there’s lots of rocks shaped like dried-up hearts   And lots of boulders grown big and fat  It might seem like a lie, but all the cats are yellow  And all the people who used to call them  Aurora are gone  There are lots of lumpy, bumpy holes  There are lots of empty pots  All the birds here say the same thing  The birds strip off their feet, and the feet pile up in the pots  The Auroras slink out from the gray boulders  There’s no end to them   More come to fill their place   And the holes are filled in as well   The cats’ footsteps get slowly further away   The grass grows all around when no one’s looking


*rare earth equation: an evolutionary biology term

Rare Earth Equation

 (Webzine View vol. 57, 2022)

By Yi won


All Poems Translated by Seth Chandler

Korean Works Mentioned: 

When They Ruled the Earth (Moonji, 1996)

『그들이 지구를 지배했을 때』 (문학과지성사, 1996)

A Thousand Moons Rising Over the River of Yahoo! (Moonji, 2001)

『야후!의 강물에 천 개의 달이 뜬다』 (문학과지성사, 2001)

The World’s Lightest Motorcycle (tr. E. J. Koh, Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello, Zephyr Press, 2021)

『세상에서 가장 가벼운 오토바이』 (문학과지성사, 2007)

• “Voices,” “Shadows,” The History of an Impossible Page (Moonji, 2012)

「그림자들」, 「목소리들」, 『불가능한 종이의 역사』 (문학과지성사, 2012)

• “Apple Store,” Let Love Be Born (Moonji, 2017)

「애플 스토어」, 『사랑은 탄생하라』 (문학과지성사, 2017)

• “Machine–Mudang (1),” The Smallest Discovery (Minumsa, 2017)

「기계-무당 (1)」, 『최소의 발견』 (민음사, 2017)

• “Friendly Gathering,” (Siindongne, Aug. 2019)

「친목 모임」 (시인동네 2019년 8월호, 2019)

• “Shared Kitchen” (Webzine Gongsisa, June. 2020)

「공용 키친」 (웹진 공정한시인의사회 2020년 6월호)

• “Small People Community,” (Literature and Society vol. 134, 2021)

「작은 사람 공동체」, (문학과사회 2021년 여름호, 2021)

• “Biosphere,” “Rare Earth Equation,” (Webzine View vol. 57, 2022)

「생물권」, 「희귀한 지구 방정식」, (웹진 비유 2022년 9월호, 2022)

Did you enjoy this article? Please rate your experience


Sign up for LTI Korea's newsletter to stay up to date on Korean Literature Now's issues, events, and contests.Sign up