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  • In the Dark, and: Friend! In Your Fist. . ., and: Someone, and: Mountain Station, and: Year-End Fair, and: An Alley, and: Traveling Companions, and: A Chance Encounter, and: We Meet Again

in the dark

The stench of blood was carried by the rain, and sobbing could be heard in the wind. It was summer but the streets were frozen white. Folks had shut their gates and hidden indoors.

Could all those past deaths have been in vain? That year’s bloodstains were still on the grass and rocks in the hills where I had gone, taking the kids. In the darkness of night all the grieving spirits would wake and fill the deep valley with their keening.

Tell me, friend, what am I so afraid of? I was so anxious that I woke up the kid to go for a piss, and recalled vividly the last shot in Père Lachaise Cemetery. My eye shouted, Look, look! My ear screamed, Listen, listen! to the empty stillness. I felt ashamed to admit that I knew the tales entangled in that mountain valley.

We buried our friend in the lee of a rock then scrubbed and wiped our muddy hands, wondering if all those past deaths that had taught us just how strong we were had really been in vain.

In this summer night, loud with the keening of blood in flowers, yes, and in dewdrops, too, tell me, friend, what am I so afraid of? [End Page 107]

friend! in your fist. . .


We’d had a hard frost the day Ch’ang-tol’s dad died. Wrapped in a straw mat, his body was lying in a corner of the yard of the oil-press house, strewn with paulownia leaves. His wife kneeled swooning beside him.

Ch’ang-tol and I played with our tops. Too frightened to go home, we kept on playing in the rice-store yard as night fell.


Friend, I know that you’ve got a concealed knife in your fist, grasping the glass of soju. I saw the fire burning in your eyes when we met in the eatery and in the bar. I’m your friend. I saw your shoulders tremble in disbelief, the more I insisted.

Friend, I saw the paulownia leaves heaped on the straw mat wrapped around the body.


Someone is watching me. In the steep alley frozen white, I clench my fists, resolved not to be afraid, while behind my back someone is mocking me. That evening I was drunk on the smell of a girl’s face-powder but I just talked on about what the Blanquists did in 1871, and talked about a hometown friend who’d died wretchedly. Someone is rebuking me. Yes, indeed, rebuking me behind my back as I shudder at the sound of the wind sweeping through that alley, as I lie tossing beside the sleeping kids. Is snow falling tonight on that tomb? Someone is watching me. [End Page 109]

mountain station

In the inn, flying coal dust came rattling the room’s paper door. Eyes opened to the screech of coal trains on the railway line and an image of the hands of friends, chained there, as the small station was astir at daybreak.

A shabby alley with fishshops next to a substation, where the humming in the power lines brought only false reports that spring would never come to this isolated valley.

Local youths went crazy and searched travelers while I wondered what on earth might be more frightening than death—and in my ear

I heard friends shouting, their songs screaming not to be afraid, though lightning scorched my hair and thunder split my ears. Though that icy morning star was no longer on our side.

year-end fair

I’m looking increasingly haggard, ashamed of being alive.

Along the now-dismantled rails a little county town a cold year-end fair.

I shut my ears against the sound of the biting wind, against whispers full of malice.

All day long I wander through the market alleys hoping to find someone I knew. [End Page 110]

an alley...


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pp. 107-113
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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