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  • Five Poems from Maninbo (Ten thousand lives)
  • Ko Un (bio)
    Translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé (bio) and Lee Sang-Wha (bio)

Ŏnnyŏn in Siberia

In the 1920ssome Koreansmade their way beyond Mongoliainto Russia,journeyed all the way to near Lake Baikaland settled in a ruined hut that had to be propped up.

Such a long way to go to live.

Despite blizzardsand days so cold their urine froze,they managednot to freeze to death.

Such a harsh way to live.

On a freezing morning, a girl in Korean dress, long skirt and blouse,a water pot on her headwent on her way [End Page 295] to fetch watercarrying a club to smash the ice.

Not yet called Anna or Tatiana,just Ŏnnyŏn, Pretty Girl.

Her father had not come home for several days.Boarding a sledge,he went off to a hunting lodgein Bear Forest.

Ŏnnyŏn hadtwo younger brothersand two younger sisters.

The family had grown as they journeyed on.

They're not yet called Sergei or Josip or Boris butFirst TwinSecond TwinTong-sŏpKŭt-sŏpBelow ŎnnyŏnLittle GirlLast Girl.

Once she turned eight, Ŏnnyŏn became an adult.She had been living the daysshe was destined to live. [End Page 296]


Outside Kanghwa town on Kanghwa Islandthere's Kapkot, a place where breezes blow.In the fields of Kapkot,once the special February wind subsides,the March wind comes along.Skylarks venturing upward are injured by the gusts.

Across the whirlwind-stirred sea,in the haze of the Kimp'o plainsthe April wind makes the seedbeds sprout with young rice.

The seedlings are planted in May.As people are planting the rice they shout:HallelujahHallelujah

Once Christianity arrived at isolated villages,believersand non-believersbecame deadly foes.

In a single village Baptistsand Episcopalians,each other's enemies,could not intermarry,could not attend each other's wedding parties.

A member of the Holiness Church, Kwak Il-kyu,who shouts Hallelujah one hundred times a day,is getting married to Hong Sun-ja of the same church,who shouts Hallelujah two hundred times a day. [End Page 297]

Episcopalians dare not attendthe wedding,even though they're cousinsor distant relatives.

Former co-workers,former close friends and kinvanished,became one another's foes.

The moment the North Korean armies arrivedthose on the left arose, killed those on the right.Once the North withdrewthe right was lefthaving slaughtered all those on the left.

The churches prospered.The churches distributedAmerican relief food and goods.People came flockingto collect wheat flour.They even received a secondhand suit of clothes.

All were forced to shout Hallelujah!Out in the fields at harvest time too:Hallelujah!Hallelujah! [End Page 298]

Yi Jŏng-yi's Family

They walked all the way from Chinnamp'o in North Koreato Hongsŏng in South Korea's Ch'ungch'ŏng Province.They walked and walked,for twenty days they fled.

Yi Jŏn-haeand her sister Yi Jŏng-yiwith their parents following them.

All day long walking with nothing to eat.When they found a wellthey drank then walked on in the flesh-biting cold.

They dreaded the American troopsso they smeared their clotheswith their own shit.

They spread soot from kitchen chimneysover their faces.The mother becamea beggar-mom,her daughters beggar kids.

Their bodies stank of shit.Instead of American troops, dogs came running.

Their robust fatherlikewiseblackened his face. The teeth inside his lips looked stronger still. [End Page 299]

When snow fellthey ventured into a villageand were saved by a shedor an empty cowstall.

Three hundred miles they walked,arrived at Hongsŏng, settled there.

When China attacked in January '51,they never reached there,being held back near the 38th parallel.They began a new life amidst the hills and fields of Hongsŏng,purchased a big hospital.

One daughter, Yi Jŏng-yi got married,became the poet Kim Young-Moo...