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Manoa 14.1 (2002) 115-118

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from Mount Paektu

Ko Un

The Battle

it was a long long fight
in the midst of the fight
I thought I caught a glimpse of my son, Pa-u
there wasn't even a moment to call him—Pa-u!
the battle was unrelenting
in the dark
I could get shot from either side
get stabbed by knives
get hit by rifle butts and fall
Japanese bombs exploded behind us
machine guns spilled out fire
inside the darkness
a mix of screams, cries
inside the darkness
knives collided with knives
the battle inside the darkness
lit up brightly for a second
then darkness again
there were only screams
over here, over there
am I fighting?
are you fighting?
are you an enemy or one of us?
in the end I kept pulling the trigger
it was daybreak
the fight ended as the sun rose
the sun rose to unveil
the men fallen on the battleground
50 independence fighters dead
100or so injured
at times they were carried back on stretchers [End Page 115]
some were dragged
some crawled
Pa-u, who got shot in the arm,
felt as if he were dead even though he was alive
he got dragged like that to the station for the injured
the violent fight has ended
the independence fighters won because
Song Sang-yong's raiding unit was in charge at the end
not all the corpses of Korean fighters were taken away
the bodies of Japanese soldiers mingled
with the bodies of independence fighters
when you die blood stops, blood hardens

Mount Mil

we went inside a shabby house
a couple took a room by themselves
so men and men
glued together
closed their eyes
endured the cold with little heat left over
our bodies didn't itch
maybe even the lice were dead
the men fell asleep not knowing the lice were busy
how long did we sleep?
like coming back from the dead
when we awoke
it was already pitch dark
the middle of the night
no water to moisten our throats
we closed and opened our eyes
listening to the wind outside
what were we thinking by coming all the way here?
even Kim T'u-man
was weary
looked back at his life up to then
when you turn your head to the past
even today
is not today
even tomorrow
even tomorrow
isn't a dream you'd run out to greet in your bare feet
the night was almost over then a glimpse of light
the door flung open [End Page 116]
a Japanese policeman holding a rifle with a bayonet
a Jap!
all the way here
at the end of the world
behind him were spies
a Korean, also a Manchurian
more despicable than thieves
the Manchurian spy was about to approach
but the policeman told the Korean spy to step forward
"who are you all?"
the spy addressed us in harsh, rude language
Kim T'u-man stepped out, blocking Tol-sok
our first worry was the gun aimed at us
Almost servile, Kim T'u-man answered
"yes, yes, we are on our way to Moktan River or to Imku
we'll farm if we can
if not
we'll do whatever we must
to be able to put a morsel of food in our throats
in Korea we are nothing but peasants
so we own nothing
we heard that if we went to Manchuria we would be well off
but when we arrived in Yongture
all the land was already taken
so we tried coming out this far"
"is that so?
aren't you those worthless independence fighters?"
Kim T'u-man put on a straight face and replied,
heartbreakingly sincere,
"what, independence fighters?
we aren't even the in-laws of those fighters
if we have only two meals a day
I suppose that could make us independence fighters
but from what I heard
more fighters are dying from starving and freezing
than from fighting"
the Korean spy
interpreted for the Japanese policeman
then the spy seemed...


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pp. 115-118
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