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  • This Tree of Yours
  • Kim Young-ha (bio)
    Translated by Dafna Zur (bio)


When you were little, you read a story about an oak tree. You read it somewhere, in a very forgettable children's book-you can no longer recall the book's title or the look of its cover. The illustrations in this book-enormous trees with ferocious eyes and scowling mouths drawn on their trunks-were enough to send shivers down your young spine. They really started scaring you. Tree-outstretched roots wild as a madwoman's hair, the eerie crackle of their leaves-those trees were there before you were born, and will most likely be there long after you're gone.

Back then, a tree grew outside your house. A foul-smelling acacia. It hung over the roof, its branches draping a shadow over your window. Ants filed up its trunk and a hornet's nest swung from its thick branches. Every night, a bird-I think it was some kind of owl-hooted at you. You imagined how one day the roots would burst their way into the kitchen, and the branches would poke down through the roof. The ants would chew your bed to bits, birds would nest in the living room, and hornets, their bellies full of autumn venom, would sting your brother to death. [End Page 9]

You felt much better after moving to the city. The trees looming over the streets at night were gone. You were no longer faced with those roots clawing fiercely at the earth. Spindly willows and ginkgos were all there were, and even they were not spared an annual spring pruning. Finally you were able to sleep soundly in the comfort of clean pavement, streetlights, and crosswalks.

In time, you learned to play video games, smoke cigarettes, and drive. You could tell the good people from the bad, and acquired the skill of picking up women who caught your fancy. You got yourself a passport and a credit card, and thought no more about those who'd disappeared from your life. You bought a pager and three years later upgraded to a cell phone, and now you could speed dial every last one of your friends. Such was your existence.

And now? You're looking at a tree. You're in a steamy, muggy place, you've come to a stop, and before you stands a fig tree that would dwarf a five-story building. You're listening to time, listening in the presence of this majestic life form whose origin no one can know, except that it sprang from a single seed lodged in the feathers of a passing bird.

The clouds scud by. The monsoon winds carry the scent of rain. Dark butterflies are first to catch the scent, and they swarm into the woods. Barefoot boys glide past you like butterflies. What brought you here, you wonder. This fig tree? That swarm of butterflies, flying thousands of miles across the sea to get here?


You were sitting in the living room with a cup of coffee the day it occurred to you to visit Angkor Wat. The coffee was no longer fresh-it tasted flat. It was quiet; no one was around to distract you. It was as if traffic had come to a standstill and all the children were cooped up in school. This oppressive silence was broken by a single clatter, as if from a faint tremor-barely audible-from the dishes settling in the dish rack. The movement was too slight to detect with the eye, [End Page 10] and not forceful enough to disturb the stack. You knew, better than anyone, that this little clatter took place every day, not only in your dish rack but in other homes, everywhere, all the time. But to you that day, it came as a surprise. You figured it was natural for wet dishes to shift; in fact, according to the laws of gravity, that's what they'd be expected to do. That tremor was the most natural of movements, really. And in this world, weren't there such moments? You felt you had just witnessed one of...