- Two Poems
Oh, My Mother
-Upon hearing after 40 years that my mother lives in the South
Alive,Still alive,And almost eightyEven today Mother is still alive.A sun suddenly risesIn the middle of a black nightA heavy shower of joy at once fills,Overflows, and gushes out of my heart.A heavy joy crushes me.Collapsed, I cry,This son wails.On my knees, my senses . . . gone,I bow over and over again.What has kept Mother goingTill today,Is not the grace of God, [End Page 149] Nor Time's sympathy.It is Mother's faithThat kept her head high up to the world,Because she will not close her eyesTill she embraces this son once more.To her faith,I bow on my knees.Mother, thank you.Oh, Mother, thank you. [End Page 150]
Oh, My Mother-Her Voice
Los Angeles and Taejon,The Pacific in between.The phone conversation between Mother and Chairman Yong-huiGraciously sent to me;Unwinding the cassette tapeI listen to Mother's voice.The voice is not familiar,Foreign to my ears,So I listen . . . over and over.The sound revives far-gone days,And Mother's voiceThat echoed that day;The voiceThat sang lullabies in a low tune,When by the window on a snowy day, she,Walking to and fro, piggybacked me;The voice that searched for me on the other side of darknessWhen I walked a long night's walk back home alone.After setting a birthday table,With the scent of steamed rice-cake filling the air,The voice that woke me:"Young-Jae, honey, time to wake up."This same voice echoes,Breaking through the veil of distant years.The sound that floats overMy childhood and boyhoodDays gone by, so far away.Those familiar sounds she made, opening and closing the gate at home;The sound of her grinding barley in a mortar jar in the morning and the evening. [End Page 151] The sound that carries meThe tears she squeezed outSitting in front of the smoky kitchen fire holeAnd the camellia oil.The voice familiar to Mother's earsThat I finally foundAfter fumbling efforts,The sound I can't erase in one lifetime.Let us not live, divided apart, any more.Mother's voiceCrying out for me, choked.Come hurry on, to Mother's arms,Come hurry on, to Mother's arms,With the sun of harmony in your chest.It calls me,Ah, Mother's voice! [End Page 152]
O Yŏng-jae was born in 1935 in Changsŏng, Chŏnnam Province of South Korea. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he was drafted for the People's Volunteer Army (at the age of 16). He has lived in the North ever since. He is the author of several epic odes, including The Taedong River (1985), which is well known for initiating epic odes as a representative of the North Korean poetic style. To South Koreans he is best known for "Mother, Please, Don't Get Older," which he wrote when reunited with his mother in 2000 for the Reunion of the Dispersed Families of the South and North Koreas.
Chae-Pyong Song is an associate professor of English at Marygrove College in Detroit, Michigan. He has published articles on modern fiction, as well as translations of Korean poetry and fiction, and coordinates the Master of Arts in English program.