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  • Five Poems by Lee Young-ju
  • Lee Young-ju
    Translated by Jae Kim (bio)


When I was young, my aunt told me the name of the woman who goes to the public cemetery to meet her lover. Having cut a corner from the hemp cloth that covered the lover's face, she carries it around in her pocket, my aunt said. As though her life was the fact of his absence. In the middle of summer, because it was so warm, I used to sleep under a hemp blanket. My aunt said that in the summer you had to be friends with frightening dreams, and that you had to call on each ghost by name. Her name, made of geometric shapes, changed every day, so how was I supposed to look at it? Falling asleep next to me, carrying on my sleep from beside me, such beautiful shapes. On warm nights, I tend to drool on the hemp blanket, and the slobbered, wet blanket keeps on sliding down past my feet. Having dribbled out the door, I would see the lover's face cloth neatly tucked in a nook. I kept finding myself barefoot. Blue blood ran through my soles, and strangely, I felt hopeful that, if I fell asleep, I could touch the clouds. That within the dead lover's name I would discover what was beyond our senses. I don't believe there's anything that can't be touched. Only the lover, like the ghost whose fingers grow long and whose toes grow sharp under a burned tree, only the one who became this [End Page 113] lover. If you rub your stomach through the hemp blanket, a cool breeze flows in. When it gets too warm, barefoot, I leave the hour behind. At the street corner on my way out, my aunt's crying. I have to become friends with a frightening real world. [End Page 114]

The Stonemason's Yard*

Today's sleep, this sleep, is the last. The day to leave the bed of cold stone and go inside is tomorrow. The stonemasons, who break the stone and eat the powder, say they know by instinct. The sentiment of a patient … biting into rice and soup. Blunt feet slip when it rains. I lie on the bed of stone and, with a white towel, cover my eyes, and with another towel, cover my eyes again. Place a dimmer pair of eyes on top of the closed eyes, and there's always the foreboding that the approaching sleep will be your last. Like a mole who leaves this place to go to that place, I have to endure the summer. The fact of someone leaving me is like the heart of a patient who breaks the stone and eats the stone. It was as though they were leaving even when they were close, and the palisades were so beautiful I carried a hammer to the edge and cried, I remember the afternoon. Like a mole. I don't like you. I don't like myself for not being able to get rid of you all. I hate how, in the end, I can't hate the things I want to hate, and that the fact makes me sad. … This summer, I dig a shallow cave and face down so the blood can drain more easily. Inside the cave, Jesus's face, wrapped in a white-white light, speaks, today, while falling asleep. Words no one listens to, warnings not to slip on the stone. How tightly does it need to be tied to withstand the quake? Like a mole. The untraceable stone. When we break the stone, our lives remain, the lump of dead flesh. The slick stone is finished, and there they are, the palisades. To greet the lost lover. [End Page 115]

Happy Funeral

The cat resembles a fat mouse. I want to eat it. The thing that resembles me. It wears Grandmother's hemp dress and plays. Smells of the onesie Mother used to bring out of the closet. A hungry smell. It seems, in the hunger's midst, despite being born prey, it eats...


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pp. 113-119
Launched on MUSE
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