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  • Five Poems
  • Ra Hee-Duk (bio)
    Translated by Diana Hinds Evans (bio)

Death by exposure

This morning I noticedAn abundance of dried fruit in my room.The pomegranates and clementines on my desk have become hard as stone.Their fragrance gone, they lie at rest.Perhaps losing your scent you will gain eternal life,I whisper as I stroke toughened skins.Acorns that dropped on my head last autumnLine up evenly on paper.When I rattle them a distant bell tolls.The dried wild rose is still red.Looking at fresh flowers or fruitThe thought that I should give them a funeralBefore they rot in their own juicesBrought me to subject them to death by exposure.In the breezy sunshineI hung the fragrant bodies upside downIf flesh and blood did not disappear [End Page 325] I could have no peaceI placed on the fire flesh pickled in sugar of pain,Stirred it with a wooden spoonIf I did not run away I couldn't endureHave I dried up too?Someone said I do a good job of drying flowers but I saidI'm just putting to rest my nomadic bloodThis morning the moment I entered my room,The scent of dried flowers rushed at meThose lip-like petals,Lips that have never grazed a wet thigh,Faced me all at once and screamed.Flowers desiccated light as butterflies. [End Page 326]

Half moon

Perhaps her cold body was heavy—At dawn she saddled the ridgeline to rest

Even a god may be caught in the act!

Sometimes she tamps the ground under her feet,Traces the isolated spur of the mountain; I've watched herSuddenly our eyes meetBlushing, she darts behind cloudsThen ventures out again elsewhere

The imprint of her buttocksRemains on the ridgelineTrees there have bright scarsLike Isaiah's lips cleansed with a hot coal. [End Page 327]

Flowers underground

The orchid blooms underground.Because it never emergesThey say few have seen it.Only the termite, following its scent in the fallThrough cracks in the dirt, visits it.The orchid withers when it sees the sun,The termite eschews the light by digging:Despite dark determinations, here are bodies of pure white.

Like undeveloped film, the entire plant is a rootIt does not rise to the surfaceEven the flowerIs only a hidden root [End Page 328]

Five minutes

In the shade of blossomsMy life seems to pass.I wait and paceHas it passed already?Five minutes I wait for the childWhite acacia petals fall around me.In their shadeSuddenly I become a white-haired croneWhen the bus rounds the cornerAnd stops in front of meNo 6-year-old will leap into my armsA tall youth will walk towards me.As much as I've aged he will have grownI'll look at him like we've swapped livesEven while waiting life flashes past in a blinkI waited in this spotWhen for a long time he didn't returnI faced his too distant ebb tide,The falling petals,Or the passing bus.Surely my wait will end as I stand here grumbling.As I wait, the blanket of petals deepens.Ah, here comes the bus.I jump lightly and step out of the shadow. [End Page 329]

A seven-year-old reading

Only through the weight of their lightDid the stars plug holes in the sky. That night there was a leak; how quickly the sky fell!With each shooting star sky gushed outSoaked our beds and flowed to the sea.That early summer night when in the deep wellA scorpion's red heart beat like a drum,We weren't afraid. There was a house by the shore, without roof or floor,But thin brick walls blocked the wind;On the cold sand we giggled and pulled and tugged our blanketsAnd fell asleep.Sand and sky—our sure floor and ceiling—Encircled our sleep; afraid the sky might disappear,I woke from slumber again and again and read...