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  • Five Poems
  • Song Ch'an-ho (bio)
    Translated by Wayne de Fremery (bio)

An Old Tale Taken from a Trunk

Our house has some awfully old smudges.Scrub and scrub and stillthe smell of pale yellow-pale yellow stains,

the unrememberedare oldest in our house.The forgotten, rustling,smell of mint.Want some candy, little one? No thank you,Grandma,you've been dead ten years! [End Page 365]


Why would those folksdrag their boatsinto the hills?The skate is ripe, too ripe,the hootch already gone from the jars.

With their little mudskippers in the buckin tow and briny salt sacks stowed,why would they weave paths throughrough reeds and treesfor the hills,the hills?

In the name of that flower,some other shore?Along a path to see it,along a path through mountain passages,

singing and crying,they row into the hills.The skate is ripe, too ripe,inland spring gone too.

Why would theywant to walk these mountain trails?I picked a rock from the pathand placed it on a pile of other prayers-a camellia with its neck broken. [End Page 366]

Camellia Opening Wide

Finally, the lion rises straight to its feet,a flower in full bloom-four feet into emptiness,a red mane from-

I have to finish this sentence.Before the wind snapsthat camellia in its teeth and springs for the ground. [End Page 367]

Orchard with a Hedge of Bitter Orange Trees

Autumn came in a yellow taxi. It was the first time I'd seen fall looking so fresh. He wore the latest fashion in wedding tuxes. His new yellow shoes, new yellow watch, his smart bowtie seemed to hold him fast to the listless life he was fleeing, but just barely.

Trying to shed the clods clinging to his new shoes, slightly slow-witted, he paced for a time at the entrance to the orchard, not knowing what to do. I saw them then, the apples' foreheads reddening beyond the hedge.

Finally, he reached through. Shall I jab him? Shall I jab him? The thorns of the bitter orange trees were clearly conflicted. It's the way it was. They had raised the apples, washed and cradled them in the wind with their own hands.

It's so. And now they're grown. So, if not the thorns of the bitter orange trees, then who could know the contours of their ripened figures? Who could tell the secret stories, faded like dark sunspots, in their cores?

Whatever they know, the thorns of the bitter orange trees are busy stitching final touches in gowns fitted for the apples at their ends. They must be finished before they are picked.

Ah, what sin is there in youth? Autumn has already tasted their sweetness; life's promises are already fleeing the season on big, backward steps. [End Page 368]

Camellias Falling

Finally, at last, the camellias fall.Returning again to the yardwith my brush-clover broom,there, already, moreweight in red light,let go and recumbent,than a hundred bags can hold.

Friend, where are you reading this fine day?You push away red lips, bright like that,decline even the healing wines.Beginning withmornings such as these,try the sacred textof this broomsweeping blossomsinto sack after sack. [End Page 369]

Song Ch'an-ho

Song Ch'an-ho, a native of northern Ch'ungch'ŏng Province, is the author of three books of poetry: Hŭk ŭn sagakhyŏng ŭi kiŏk ŭl katgo itta (Soil with memories of a square, 1989), 10-yŏn tongan ŭi pin ŭija (A seat left empty for ten years, 1994), and Pulgŭn nun, tongbaek (Crimson eyed, camellias, 2000). His most recent collection was awarded the Kim Su-yŏng Literary Award, as well as the Tongsŏ Literary Prize.

Wayne de Fremery

Wayne de Fremery, a native of northern California, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. He currently lives in Koyang, a northern suburb of Seoul, with his family.