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Ten Poems by Kim So Yeon

by Kim So Yeon Translated by Anton Hur June 3, 2024

Kim So Yeon

Kim So Yeon has published four poetry collections, two essay collections, one children’s book, and one picture book. She has received the Nojak Literary Award and the Hyundae Literary Award for poetry. Her poems have appeared in Mānoa.

Catalyzing Night


Your boiling body

I wipe with wet towels

just as you’ve taught me

and stay up all night


Sometimes I outrun time

The slow on occasion know to abhor the quick


Like the wooden floor

lying flat

staring into memories scampering like roaches

how to kill them


Sometimes I unleash into now

memories from the future

Abhorrence is especially known in hunger


How did you know 

a sheen of applied moisture

wicks heat from the body


Recalling again

how you cooled my fever

I stay up all night


Your gaunt bones

can melt to nothing

You will melt soon

evaporate and vanish soon

as you so yearned

as you so yearned


When a window opens

frantic wind whips the curtains

flips the pages of an open book

rain barges in

An empty bucket dances

in the backyard


The next day slides in

calm as a lie

sunlight dewed on every edge

we are new again


When the wear is much

between yesterday and today

when a shadow banned from my dream

lingers by me to pitifully gaze at the morning


time shall protect me

How wonderful

that some things only need time



weakness and ignorance and overflow

our wasted time of repeated mistakes

this vast sunlight

wordlessly endlessly







Repeat and Review


Gazing at an ancient tree to remember someone


loving her more that way


All her life people asked her why she went through the trouble to do what she does


Every time she served up the same answer like a meal carefully prepared


Isn’t a mother-of-pearl inlay wardrobe prettiest when put out on the curb, she’d say


Wouldn’t it be more ideal, she’d say


if a day of the week was designated for sleeping in the snow


If there be a tree so ancient that an IV drip hangs from it instead of fruit


she would read from it regret and shame and impending death and


indignity, and distressingly be reminded of someone she knows


Seeing the vines and weeds and torn plastic bags cling and fuse to its body


be the first in 2,754,981 passersby to hug it


she whom like the one garlic clove pinging off the cutting board unscathed


remains firm and sharp and dedicated to her cause for herself and as herself


Imagining a person angry that a vase of unwilted flowers couldn’t be emptied


glaring at the flowers, I’m watching against my love overgrowing


Inadequate no matter how it’s said, like some disease where circulation stops at the clavicles


If a community ringed in golden light on the edge of a precipice can be imagined


and a member of it stands with their back to this twilight with a noose in hand for suicide


and the nooses given up are as numerous as ornaments on a Christmas tree


I am gazing at the ancient tree and listening to her laughter








I read a poem

where someone sat silent from sudden morning news

who sat until night and then got up

put on their slippers and opened the front door and left


What was the news

Wondering what the poem didn’t tell us

I decided to wait for them

knowing nothing about them

all night until the morning comes


should be the first stanza of this poem

Someone reading this poem I’m writing

should turn this page easily I hope

going to the next world with no other questions


Then I can continue that poem

I must write first where that person went

Even if only they dozed on a bus

Slippered as they are I must say it was summer for their feet


I want to say they went very far

but I can’t write they’re walking by a street

where headlit cars speed by


They’d gone to find someone   The door was closed firm and no one lived there and they’d gone to find someone  The door was closed firm and they hesitated in the corridor and decided to wait a bit and they’d gone to find someone  To open the door and the two people looked at each other the threshold between them and they’d gone to find someone  They put on their coat and handed over another an extra and they’d gone to find someone   They gave up on knocking and remarked that they’d made it there and that it was a place they could make it to and they went to a convenience store nearby and drank up a bottle of water


Their uvula drenched like a marathoner’s

they finished in this poem

which you’ll forget you ever read

While I wrote it


the person I waited for came to my door

and had to turn back

unnoticed because I was writing this poem






Blue Ice


The night conceals me   Hides me ever deeper   I could hold my hands in a megaphone and shout there’s someone here to listen  Resolutions sticky like fruit pulp drop from the sides of my mouth on this night   where the world melts   where one nods at someone pointing out obviously that the past is the future  until realizing the future they wish to point out is the past   proving the future is no longer undiscovered   A walkable night   A night for going farther than ever past the point of no return past the imaginable  Switch on an app to see where you are  Wipe your sweat with a handkerchief  Stand for long in the middle of a four-lane street   and by the dead cat   A night the bugs walk right in the middle   An arresting night   Let’s shake the dead bugs out of the fluorescent lights casing   Summer is disgusting isn’t it?   Loud?   Worse at night right?   To say nothing of outside?   This is the kind of thing you call beautiful right?   Good right?   Good job right?   Proud of yourself right?   A night where saying someone is good makes them good   A night when you don’t want to fit a trustworthy impression   A night where you really don’t want to be anything  A night where you reject being a better person   To say “we” but mean “I” is one of the choiciest of all slights*   An overthought night where you write down a line you read earlier and smile   A night where you grin because you used a silly word like overthought   Overthought is a good word   A good word for saying things that exist do not exist   like they’re snow falling over footsteps printed in snow   A night where pressing a master switch makes the world disappear into black   A night to be pushed to the edge   A night for acceleration   A night as uncanny and funny as placing precious things on a precipice   A night richly disguised in a softness like velvet  A night without a moment of calm in the midst of endless chatter   A night that’s falling silent   A night that overflows   Keep eyes wide open to ward off dreams   Withstand it like blue ice   Withstand it with all my passion   Believe in the protection of the dark   Never succumb to the warning-flooded night


*Theodor Adorno, “Monogram 122” from Minima Moralia, translated by Dennis Redmond








Keep going

to where I am pointing


It’s there,

really there,

you’ll see it,


a heat without sweat   a shop without a cashier   a puppy without a leash

sobbing without sadness

sobbing without an ounce of need for sadness


Listen closely,

until you hear it,

dance in that sobbing


You’re already there?

It’s too quiet?

You can’t dance?

You’ll try to bring it?

It’s dirty?

Too dirty to touch?


I’ll go   and carry it   and get dirty

Just you wait


There you floated

pockets filled with sobs   wearing them like a hat   or a long scarf

carrying them on your back   against your chest


Too much sobbing

Too too much sobbing

Everything is sobbing   everything is silence


The cries

the cries without an ounce of need for sadness

I pick up from all over and

look up at you



really dirtied you were

grinning down at me


Let’s stay here

Yes let’s just stay here

Let’s do that






Our Activism


I stared at your scar for a long time

A round mark adequately healed but needing more time


Someone had drawn a tattoo on that scar

so I talked of them

opening our hour of conversation


With jeon and pyeonyuk, nengchae and jeolpyun between us

I plunge my spoon into my mutguk


How is it,

Everything is awful

That’s better than saying everything is fine


When asked why my pre-meal prayer was so long

I answered I prayed the skies keep you safe

No hostility was meant but afraid it would be taken

as such my words trailed off as they do


Every time I open my mouth I make an effort

to express two three ten times good intent and goodwill

in the hopes at least a modicum makes it over


I lived to share in the sadness of others

but didn’t realize our sharing was a blessing all along

even as we sobbed in between


our continuing conversations

The people sitting behind you disappear in turn

The carapace of past memories crumble in your handling


Thinking back such things were only what they were

Now should you have to fight an angel

you could take him


Looking down at the dishes on the table that

repulse farther and farther away from each other


I am liking you

holding a strong and round snare in my hands

your dark and deep hostage






Second Floor Guest Lounge


Today I found a flowerpot had chipped

the chip nowhere to be seen


The sprouts spreading their rolled-up leaves

The whitely spreading breath


What if . . . 

I mean what if . . .


I thought this about 50,000 times

I’m becoming a what if


Thinking too much

turns me into thought


I open the door

put my thoughts floating like dust on my palm

and blow it away like freeing a spider


Putting my hand into the dark

I offer a handshake


A scientist’s “I don’t know”

is because they lack an explanatory theory


The piled-up packets of pills on the table of a long-term patient

To begin untangling the mess of chords behind the machines


You don’t have to answer any questions

You can say something else that’s true instead


About how it seems

how it isn’t

and how it can only be so


Everyone shouts back they’re listening

The shouter keeps shouting the listeners start shouting

No one just listens anymore






Even the Bones of an Angel’s Wing Is a Formidable Skeleton Up Close


Sleep until late in the morning. Yesterday is finally far enough away. First slip feet into soft socks. Then the slippers in the foyer. Go up to the roof. Mug in hand.


I look down at the neat rows of semi-detached houses. Blowing on my hot milk before sipping. Watching the people gathered at the bus stop. The man on the bike moving farther and farther. Faint steam still curling up from the mug. And the scent of milk.


Good thing

I put on socks.

So many good things.


A friend asks

to go to the movies

so I accept

going to the movies.


You absolute bastard! Crying faces as the credits roll. As the list of backers scroll endlessly. As I hug the bucket with the few hard kernels that failed to become popcorn.


Get up and walk to the exit. I would’ve gone with a different ending. Don’t eavesdrop on this other unbastard ending. Isn’t it weird that human tragedy is impossible to portray without family? Don’t ask that. Don’t try to parse the director’s intent. What happened to the many stuntmen who moved so naturally in the unfocused background.


Research that.

Sighing about how this life isn’t enough.


When on a day I did nothing

I gain

a pimple

a full trashcan

and countless periwinkles blooming


When on a day I wrote nothing

I gain



an afternoon

a friend

and almost everything


I think of the poet who saved his company. Slipping his letter of resignation in a white envelope and smiling. Like for wedding or funeral money except resignation envelopes aren’t sold in convenience stores.


Make plans

Change them.

Cancel them.


Say things tailored to a purpose.

Just about avoid lying.

Sincerely hide all sincerity

and for their sake ignore the earnestness

of earnest talkers.


On windy days chimneys smoke in right angles

like they were drawn that way. Lots of factories in this place.

I see.


Finish milk. Lay slippers neatly in foyer. Wash the mug so it doesn’t stink and dry it upside down. Like nothing was eaten. For tomorrow.






Leave These Flowers Behind


Arrive at your final destination

Open luggage and place the last instant rice in boiling water

Place on the table the last of the lunch gim

Dry shoes and socks on the radiator


Wasn’t thinking of sleep but dozed off   sitting by the windowsill looking out at the neighbors   The neighbor couple fighting all night found peace this morning too   Wanted to see how they made up but the snow fell all night encasing the houses


The rental car outside is covered in snow

Opening and closing the door

makes some of it crumble

The wiper makes a fan-shaped portal

that’s all you need to start


You have to make it   You have to make it

I’m being followed by someone’s cheer

Grateful but unwelcome, sweet but revolting, precious but repulsive


such mindless words are

that I slow down

so they run on ahead


Holding an umbrella is too much so last night arriving in a snowstorm I took off my coat and unwound my scarf and washed my gloves and underwear and lowered myself into a hot tub   My hands floated up and when I took off my ring I rose up like steam   Open the bathroom ceiling


Fly far

just a little farther now

and leave behind

these flowers

leaning against others

So long to get here

my nose is freezing


but even here

a tour guide visits every morning

They say people like me come

to this tombstone every day






Hide the Falling Rain


He never did tell me

what he was stroking


Crouched all night stroking and

falling asleep like that

every night for 20, 50 years


I’ve only heard


Never saw it


That he never came back

is reason enough to believe it


If he comes back

will I hear what he stroked and stroked

from his own mouth



would he bring it out of a trunk

and show me himself

Will my eyes grow wide

and reach out

to touch it myself


If what he stroked

is like falling rain

a snowman

or fog or smoke


I’ve never met him but

he slept crouched over every night

As long as I don’t forget that

I don’t need to meet him


All I need is to go up high

to where there’s no one

and shout his name on occasion



he never even told me his name

and that makes me believe it a little more



Translated by Anton Hur 

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