Poetry

Four Poems by Chanho Song Translated by Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill

Our poetry editor, Joe Pan, has selected four poems by Chanho Song translated from the Korean by Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill for his series that brings original poetry to the screens of Hyperallergic readers.

*   *   *

Ha Chonghyun, "Conjunction 09-52" (2009), oil on canvas, 51 3/16 x 63 3/4 in (130 x 162 cm) (photo by Genevieve Hanson)
Ha Chonghyun, “Conjunction 09-52” (2009), oil on canvas, 51 3/16 x 63 3/4 in (130 x 162 cm) (photo by Genevieve Hanson, courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles)

Dandelion Station

Dandelion Station is located next to Hwanggan Station.
A rusty, unbridled locomotive
nods its head back and forth
to pluck flowers around the track.

“Oh, dear, what a thoughtless mass of iron you are!
You cuckoo, who makes the long-tailed tit cry.”
A cock runs across toward the locomotive
and begins to peck at it.

Dandelions, did you pull the chick’s socks up
to the knee? Did you put on your nametag?
Yes yes yes. Good, then, let’s start!

Dandelions run,
they run and babble.
Dandelion Station is next to Hwanggan Station.

Brier

On the morning of the wedding, in the spring of the year, you asked me to go to the brier forest before you left.

Sitting before the mirror to shave off one eyebrow, I assured myself that I would forget you before the crescent moon rose in its place.

The wedding hall downtown was boisterous, and the bride shed tears of happiness. In the end I ran to the brier forest to read your letter, hidden in the overturned porcelain bowl. I barely finished it.

Time passed. I wandered for twenty years in a strange land. Life has been like that—jumping blindly onto a stage, bewildered by the sound of the gong. When by chance I stood before the old brier, on the hill in my hometown, the white porcelain bowl was dim.

Briers are white, as in the old days—white as the deaf and dumb. A snake of May without eyebrows cries under the brier bush.

A Man Frozen to Death

The man is still waiting for the Queen of Snow. A glacier has almost covered the room. An icebreaker carrying supplies (a bottle of soju, a pot of ramen) tried several times to make headway at the corner of the room but then returned.

Then an ominous accident—a report that the icebreaker struck the heating pipes, and the engine of the submarine sailing under the room got stuck a hundred meters below the ice. Aha, that’s why the briquette boiler froze and burst!

The man wears several layers of clothes. Like a phantom, a white polar bear crosses the room before his eyes. Well, this is hunting season! He looks at the pattern of birches on the wallpaper. I might have hidden gunpowder and candles somewhere here in the wood.

Too late. The Queen can storm in at any time… With a drop of white blood she changes the landscape of the room (dirty clothes, moldy wallpaper) into a beautiful snowfield. Blood also circulates in the man’s face. His mouth is open, his eyes half-closed, as if remembering kissing the Queen.

In a sense, to be frozen to death may be nothing more than the faint sigh of the Queen of this season. Anyway, a blue coffin will be used to bury him. People seldom freeze to death anymore, and the rich are unwilling to mix with the poor even after death.

I have to use the whip to speed up the wagon. Even the Queen grows old. Her face melts away.

An Old Wild Cherry Tree

An old bear decides not to leave his den
when he wakes from his winter hibernation.
Instead, he’ll spend the rest of his life
loafing, clipping his toenails.

But his body itches again,
his back and shoulders are glowing red.
Then the wild cherry tree he rubbed his back against comes to mind.

We catch them in the act.
As if ashamed to be seen at play, scratching each other, rubbing their backs,
the bear hides behind the tree, the tree behind the bear.
We can’t tell if the landscape is the bear or the tree,

we stop climbing the mountain to watch.
Then the old wild cherry tree, rotten to the core, snaps
open blossoms from its remaining boughs, thick as bear paws,
and calmly presents them to us.

*   *   *

Chanho Song was born in 1959 and studied German literature at Kyungpook National University. He has published four books of poetry, including The Earth Has Rectangular Memory, An Empty Chair for Ten Years, Red Eye, Camellia, and The Night of the Cat’s Return. He has received the East-West Literary Award (2000), the Kim Sooyoung Literary Award (2000), and the Midang Literary Award (2008), one of Korea’s most prestigious poetry prizes.

Christopher Merrill’s recent books include Boat (poetry), Necessities (prose poetry), and The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War (nonfiction). He directs the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

Won-Chung Kim is a professor of English Literature at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea, where he teaches contemporary American poetry, ecological literature, and translation. Kim has published The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, I Thought It Was A Door (poetry), and co-edited East Asian Ecocriticisms: A Critical Reader. He has translated ten books of Korean poetry, including Chiha Kim’s Heart’s Agony, Because of the Rain: Korean Zen Poems, and Cracking the Shell: Three Korean Ecopoets. He has also translated E.T. Seton’s The Gospel of the Redman and H.D. Thoreau’s Natural History Essays into Korean.

To submit poetry to Hyperallergic, email 3–5 poems to Joe Pan: poetry at hyperallergic dot com.

comments (0)