While You Sleep
though there are no trees, no buildings.
running full speed,
huffing hard for a place to hide.
When we get to the rest stop, I’ll wake her up.
She snores so loud, mouth open, with lips so red it’s like someone just kissed them.
And because she wears a skirt, anyone who looks at her cools down and
to regulate her speed and height
she makes a sound no one in the world can understand.
On this quiet bus, she is smashing ice with a straw, sucking the melted ice water and ice
leftover from the coffee in the plastic cup.
She was trying to sell insurance before she fell asleep.
She called this and that person, but I guess she has no friends or family.
It wasn’t an attractive look.
Her eyes were red and the back of her hands were rough.
But before the night was over, she had a target to hit
and she wasn’t going to miss.
I know that people think we’re just foxes or wolves with four legs or whatever, but
why is this woman seeking revenge with her uninsured physical phenomena? Isn’t revenge
harder than forgiveness?
Next to me slept this woman I was seeing for the first time in my life,
a woman no one trusts with direct insurance,
whose boss or manager I can’t even complain to, but
we’re all just sisters, sitting side by side.
I’m next to the those who struggle, clench their teeth, and snore
like they’re about to take their last breath. No one sleeps soundly, but
the howling chatter of sleep is better than the quiet night.
While you snore, I keep my ears open wide
just in case you stop breathing.
Alone On the Street At Night
I head into the night. Two people tangled up in the long, narrow alley. What are they doing?
Hugging? Wrestling? No way around them. I take my earphones off and soften my steps. One
person slams their elbow against the wall and starts to cry. Enough of this shit! There’s a person
coming! Let’s ask her! The other person screams, Let’s see who’s right. I turn around. No one
there. Just me. Anxiously, I bow my head and wait. I’ve been chosen. I must make a crucial
decision in these two people’s lives. It’s like a one, two punch straight to my heart. I am
reminded of that night I spent reading a letter under a streetlight.
000000The moon falls into the sea
000000even though it’s far away.
000000Although our fate was written like the moon and the sea
000000we never connected.
The lovers approach, their shadows elongating behind them. Come on kids. I’m a human being
just like you. Don’t you think you’re asking a bit too much of me? They vanish. At the end of the
alley, more alone than God, all that’s left is me.
The Final Future
I was walking just after sunset. The calm night spread out purple like a lilac cloud. Near the
garden, as I grew damp and knackered by the fragrances, the door of the house opened and a
tall, slender man appeared.
This age might be the last where we really meet in real life. To that, I said, no fucking way. If you
attack and stop you can breathe again. The last generation to quit smoking, those that
remember the dead, the few last to have readings and recite poetry, all those
people that brought the charcoal to keep the fire lit, that world has died. You attached a picture
of grilling meat, and I said no fucking way. Spring and fall also vanished and they said that there
won’t be public phones and no more post office boxes, and yet
well, I also thought I’d be the last generation to have to wear school uniforms, and that my
generation would be the last to have to do things like sewing, and video cassettes would vanish
and yet… Just like always, why am I saying some shit like an idealist displaced from reality? To
take refuge when night falls? There are landslides and tsunamis, but the sound of the cricket in
the sea is like the god of the storm.
Every single day I say no fucking way. Yesterday at Gangnam station I screamed, no fucking
way. While I shielded my head from falling people, I screamed louder and louder until the rock in
my chest turned to white ash.
If I had taken one step further into the garden in front of that house in South Bend, that Virginia
man could’ve legally shot me dead. I could’ve been done like an African American grandma or
grandpa because I wasn’t one of them.
Every catastrophe is quickly forgotten. I say no fucking way, but that’s always the case. What’re
you going to do with that spool? Don’t look for a sewing needle, just go to the tailor. Don’t write
their names on the tiles of roofs. Grandma, BANG, when you meet your lover, instead of
postcards, handkerchiefs, or soup, bring a shotgun and a body bag. Say I love you so much,
BANG! BANG! I hope you’ll be the last generation for the vegetation and the birds. Soon we’ll
be placated by a future government that’ll tear off the limbs of our children and bury them in the
mountains and seas.
This age might be the last where we meet in real life. Has the real world really ended? Is this the
last poetry reading? I see you in the depths of the darkness. I face you every day. But looking at
a lilac garden on a desktop is also very charming.
Intermezzo (Musical Interlude)
When darkness spreads again
you’ll emerge from your room.
I’ll be waiting in the alley.
You go down the hallway
and start to descend the stairs. The lights turn on
and off, on, off, and when it goes dark
an infinite music made of black and white keys
releases a rhythm from my body while you step.
Slowly and peacefully
it grows cold.
Like I’m returning to the world,
like I’ll be able to love you openly,
as if to inform the whole world with just a few words
you call me teacher. What the fuck!?
You spilled out from a book at a cafe at night
wrapping the width of the night in a warm, transparent film.
Like my body is my body
like the feeling of the universe
you could say it’s a cloud of goosebumps and anxieties.
How lame is that?
The shaved ice that melts between us
is the white skin of the day under the black keys.
Before the ice melts completely
give it a scrape. Who uses a spoon?
I bump it with my fingers.
Little me looks and we’re barely there.
In the stainless-steel dress fancy castle
behind the window of the garden blooming with diamond ice
you wave at me
like I’m a record player with no music
as if my moan isn’t a song
as if it doesn’t sound like love for the world.
I walked on the creaking floor
sat in front of the piano
and moved my stiff fingers
because you’re on your way.
The white bed sheets are drying in the garden.
The monsoon season ended
and the tears and sweat I shed until yesterday
evaporated completely into noon.
I heard the news. Storms, plague, and famine are here again.
I bumped my head against the cupboard
and a glass dropped, but nothing broke
because you’re on your way.
Spooning rice porridge, Grandma says
I got married during the war and gave birth while evacuating.
If you stay alive, you’ll meet again.
It’s a common story, but I’m smiling today
like it’s some song I’m hearing for the very first time.
Dawn is no longer a blue cliff
and night no longer an unfinished end
because you’re on your way.
While I pick songs for us to play together
reclaiming our infinite and lovely hearts
slouching forward, you slowly make your way.
Kim Yideum is an award winning South Korean poet, novelist, and essayist. Many of her books have been translated into English, including Hysteria (Action Books, 2019). Translated by Jake Levine, Hedgie Choi, and Soeun Seo, Hysteria was the first book translated from an Asian language to win the National Translation Award and the first book to ever win both the National Translation Award and the Lucien Stryk Prize.
Jake Levine is a translator and poet. He lives in Daegu, South Korea, teaches Creative Writing at Keimyung University, and edits the Moon Country Korean Poetry series at Black Ocean.