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Poetry

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  2. Poetry

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

 

Our

weakness and ignorance and overflow

our wasted time of repeated mistakes

this vast sunlight

wordlessly endlessly

restores

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Snare

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Cave

 

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

 

Dirtied

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

daylight

sunlight

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

this

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

 

Or

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

 

But

he never even told me his name

and that makes me believe it a little more

 

 

Translated by Anton Hur 

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