Many of Kim Hyesoon’s poems are gut-wrenching, uncomfortable, and irresistibly intestinal and intense. One of South Korea’s most influential contemporary poets, she refuses to conform to what she calls “[t]he woman’s voice made by Korean men, the voice that is even more feminine than a woman’s.” Her poetry is an expanding field in which she invents and reigns over her crops of language. Read an interview with poet Don Mee Choi, a translator of Kim’s—most recently of Sorrowtoothpast Mirrorcream (Action Books, 2014) which was shortlisted this year for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. And check back this week for a series of essays and short reflections on Kim Hyesoon’s work.
Red Scissors Woman
That woman who walks out of the gynecology clinic
Next to her is an old woman holding a newborn
That woman’s legs are like scissors
She walks swiftswift cutting the snow path
But the swollen scissor blades are like fat dark clouds
What did she cut screaming with her raised blades
Blood scented dusk flooding out from between her legs
The sky keeps tearing the morning after the snowstorm
A blinding flash of light
follows the waddlewaddling woman
Heaven’s lid glimmers and opens then closes
How scared God must have been
when the woman who ate all the fruit of the tree he’d planted
was cutting out each red body from
between her legs
The sky, the wound that opens every morning
when a red head is cut out
between the fat red legs of the cloud
(Does that blood live inside me?)
(Do I live inside that blood?)
That woman who walks ahead
That woman who walks and rips
with her scorching body her cold shadow
New-born infants swim
inside that woman’s mirror inside her as white as a snow room
the stickysticky slow breaking waves of blood
like the morning sea filled with fish
—from All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (Action Books, 2011)
Has to die even if it didn’t steal
Has to die even if it didn’t kill
Without a trial
Without a whipping
Has to go into the pit to be buried
Black forklifts crowd in
No time to say Kill! Kill!
No time for the blood to splatter onto the shit-smeared walls or light bulbs
No time for the piglets just popped out from the stomach to get skinned and made into cheap colorful shoes
No time for the pale-faced interrogator wearing dark sunglasses to yell Fess up! Fess up!
No time to gamble with terror as if skipping rope, whether I can survive the torture or not
No time to bite the flesh of my mouth as if biting the hand that’s hitting my friend’s cheek in the next room
No time to tie up hands and feet and pull my head back and force water into me
No time to say Mommy please forgive me, I was wrong, I won’t do it again
No time to put a towel over my face and pour water from a pot
No handcuff or strap
Every night I read my country’s history of torture
Then in the morning I open the window and sing loudly at the roofs below the mountain
How could I possibly forget this place?
I have Pig who needs to be rinsed with a song then go
Dear Song, Please stay stuck to my body for 12 hours
A horde of healthy pigs like young strong men get thrown into the pit
They cry in the grave
They cry standing on two legs, not four
They cry with dirt over their heads
It’s not that I can’t stand the pain!
It’s the shame!
Inside the grave, stomachs fill with broth, broth and gas
Stomachs burst inside the grave
They boil up like a crummy stew
Blood flows out the grave
On a rainy night fishy-smelling pig ghosts flash flash
Busted intestine tunnel their way up from the grave and soar above the mound
A resurrection! Intestine is alive! Like a snake!
Boars come and tear into the pigs
A flock of eagles comes and tears into the pigs
Night of internal organs raining down from the sky!
Night of flashing decapitated pigs!
Fearful night, unable to discard Pig even if I die and die again!
Night filled with pig squeals from all over!
Night of screams, I’m Pig! Pig!
Night when pigs bloom dangling-dangling from the pig-tree
—from “I’m OK, I’m Pig!” in Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (2014)