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  • Twelve Poems
  • Ki Hyŏng-do (bio)
    Translated by Gabriel Sylvian (bio)

Family on the Brink, 1.6.

In late spring that year, Dad collapsed feebly like pills spilling from a glass bottle. The long summer, he ate nothing but rice soup. Under the lamplight, Mom put on a towel headband. We can do with storing fewer pickles this winter. . . . Don't say that, Mom . . . . Leaning against a pile of quilts, my big sister shouted at the top of her throat. The radishes are no good this year, nothing but holes! . . . . Closing my notebook, I looked at Mom. I need a new jacket, a bunch of the foam lining's gone . . . . That jacket will do you another winter! Your dad will be back on his feet in the spring! . . . My little sister, who had been shelling the garlic, rubbed her eyes and groaned. We already tried all the medicine for his palsy. . . . But Mom didn't say a word, she just quietly caught the towel slipping down her forehead and re-tied it tighter.


Dad, those chickens aren't ours. Why do you have to take care of them?. . . . ossing a handful of poultry feed, I complained, my lips smeared a deep blue from the eggplant I'd eaten. Dad answered as he jumped over the farm's wooden fence, To get feed for you! . . . A ripe yellow moon over the poultry farm gleamed like an egg yolk. [End Page 79] Each time Dad's long, thin shadow darted back and forth in the moonlight, I clutched at his arm and made a whistling sound. Let's plant our flower seedlings by the pump tomorrow. Which flowers would be nicest?. . . Flowers die really fast, Dad . . . . You'll be ten come spring, Mom said, ladling up noodles and broth from a brass bowl. I know. I'm not a baby chick anymore. Hey, Mom, why did you add so much red pepper to the noodles? . . .


I waited a long time by the riverbank before my big sister, spindly as a pickpurse blossom, came tottering through the autumn dusk. I got paid overtime this month for working night shifts. I'm buying a green sweat jacket with the money. All my friends have been wearing them to work. . . . Squid's what I want, 'cause you can chew it forever and it tastes good! . . . It was a long way home. The spoon in my sister's lunch bag kept jingling like music. You're worried about a sweat jacket? You'll have to take night classes at the high school from next spring! . . . Mom! Did you water all the bean sprouts? . . . Don't worry about the bean sprouts! You kids need to do the growing! . . . I was reading with my head down and blew my nose, and soot came out . . . Trim the wick. Burning an untrimmed wick just makes soot . . . . My little sister grumbled. Look at Dad. None of the medicines worked. Dad never did much before he took sick. Mom slapped Sis on the cheek. We can't cut down the medicine bills! . . . . The potato Sis was peeling dropped with a thud. After your father's business failed he fished for three years, but he kept you from starving! Then he went to the neighbor's farm and kept chickens, and saved the money to buy a field! . . . In the end, Sis burst out in tears. Her red underwear peeped out from her sweater like a withered cockscomb. But Dad was only nursing pills then, not vegetable seeds . . . .


Don't think about days in the past. They're mostly rotten anyway. Would you pick up old potatoes from last year's field? . . . [End Page 80] Dad stopped shoveling and lit a short cigarette, his ankles still stained with soil from the green garden. What'll you plant this year? . . . I intend to plant anything with tough roots, and with fruit you can eat . . . . Stars had already popped up in the sky like puffed rice. Mom's calling everybody to get washed up . . . . What do the morning glories think they're going to show the next day, sleeping puckered up like that? . . . Dad slowly walked out from the dirt. Look...


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pp. 79-96
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