Five Poems by Han Kang
A Song Heard at Dawn
In the crack betweenspring light andspreading darknessa half-dead soulis dimly reflectedI compress my lips.Spring is springBreath is breathSoul is soulI compress my lips. [End Page 169] How far is it spreading?How far is it permeating?I have to wait.Once the crack closes I will have to open my lips.Once the tongue meltsI will have to open my lips.Never againNever again now. [End Page 170]
A Thing Called a Heart
I examine an erased word.
A part of a faintly remaining line,The place where ㄱor ㄴ bends,gaps that were already emptyeven before they were erased,
into such places I find myself wanting to make my wayhunching the shoulders insidebending the waist,flexing the knees, the ankles pressed tight together,
while the heart that grows faintstill does not make anything else grow faint
a less erased bladeslashes my lips at length.
Seeking a yet darker place,my tongue cringes curling. [End Page 171]
Mark Rothko and I—Death in February
With nothing to declare in advance,there is no relationship between Mark Rothko and me.
He was born September 25, 1903,died February 25, 1970.I was born November 27, 1970and am still alive.It's just thatsometimes I think of the nine months' timeseparating my birth from his death.
Only a few daysafter that early morning when he slashed both his wristsin the kitchen attached to his studio,my parents united their bodiesand soon after that a speck of lifemust have lodged inside the warm womb.While in the late winter New York cemeteryhis body must not yet have rotted.
That's not something wonderful,it's something lonely. [End Page 172] I must have been lodged as a speckwhose heart had not yet begun to beat,knowing nothing of language,knowing nothing of light,knowing nothing of tears,inside a pink womb.
Between death and life,a gap-like Februaryenduring,enduring and finally healing,
In the half-melted, even colder groundhis hand must not yet have rotted, then. [End Page 173]
Mark Rothko and I 2
If you split a person's souland reveal the inside, it will be like this.Thereforeit's a smell of blood being given off.Inside the eternally spreading paintdaubed on with a sponge instead of a brush,quietly red,the smell of a soul's blood.
It stops like this.Memory,premonition,a compass,and the factthat I am I
Something seeping,Something spreading,like palpable wavesinto my capillaries,your blood.
Between darknessand light. [End Page 174]
A deep-sea nightuntouched by any soundor ray of light,a long-lasting eveningbeside a nebulathat exploded a thousand years ago.
Something permeating upward,Something spreading upward,Something rising holding bloody nightin its mouth
like a birdthat has just passed through a cloudemitting thunderbolts
Into my capillariesyour soul's blood [End Page 175]
Tearshave become a habit now.But thathas not swallowed me up.
Nightmares alsohave become a habit now.Even a sleepless night burning upall the blood vessels in my bodycannot devour me completely.
Look. I'm dancing.On a blazing wheelchairI'm shaking my shoulders.Oh, intensely.
I have no magic,no secret methods.It's merely that nothingcan completely demolish me.
No hell,no curseand tomb,nor that dirtily icyhail, or hailstoneslike knife-bladescan crush the last of me. [End Page 176]
Look,I'm singing.Oh, wheelchairintensely belching flames,wheelchair dance. [End Page 177]
Brother Anthony of Taizé (An Sonjae) has published more than thirty volumes of English translations of Korean literature, mostly poetry. Born in Cornwall in 1942, he has lived in Korea since 1980. He has received various awards for translation including the Republic of Korean Literary Award. He is an emeritus professor at Sogang University in Seoul and president of the Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch.
Eun-Gwi Chung is a professor in the Department of English Literature and Culture at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies in Seoul. Her publications include articles, translations, poems, and reviews in various journals including World Literature Today, Cordite, and Azalea, among others. Her recent poetry publications are Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow and Ah, Mouthless Things.