translated by Brother Anthony and Lee Sang-wha
My Next Life
I entered the forests of Mount Seo-un. Home at last!
I breathed a long sigh.
Shadows lay heaped on shadows.
I let go the few drunken rays of light
I had brought with me. Night fell.
In every country without fail freedom was at an end.
I also let go, bit by bit,
the past hundred years’ garbage.
The next morning
drops of dew were hanging in empty cobwebs.
There were too many pasts in the world. The future had shrunk.
Elements of the wind beyond
nuzzled into the forest.
The oak leaves were twittering like returning birds.
I knew I came from generations of illiterates.
I have been caught in the inescapable letters of an agglutinating language.
In my next life I will be a breathless stone
deep beneath the ground,
under a mute widow’s skeleton
and the new, silent corpses of several orphans
bundled in straw sacks.
Today again the sun is setting.
The tight-lipped ridges
and valleys are
opening wide their heart-hollows,
and the sun is setting along the 155 miles of the Armistice Line.
How I long to shout
like a mute, like a . . .
What words could remain
at the ice-crusted headwaters of the Imjin River?
What could remain
in those Baekma Highlands, in Daesung Mountain,
in the rusted helmets below Hyangno Peak?
Fifty years of Armistice Line have passed in a flash
at the constricted waist of our land.
They have passed on wings beating quicker than agonized love.
There were days of snowstorm.
At high noons of hatred,
not minding who went first
they should have laid down their stand-off guns,
should have buried them
in the thick snow-flurries,
should have buried them all
in the day-long songs of cuckoos.
All those years every word was a lie.
All those years the roaming souls of the fallen
alone have spoken the truth.
Fifty years of division have passed.
Today again the sun is setting on 155 miles of barbed wire.
For what do I sing now, coughing blood,
if some day I should visit here again?
Don’t blame me for singing.
Today again the sun is setting in silence.
Darkness comes without our waiting.
Song of White
dreams of another life.
Late spring white pear blossoms, their hearts throbbing,
await the moon.
resembles another life.
In the summer night, the field of buckwheat flowers
awaits the moon.
buries another life.
The snow that fell heavily yesterday
awaits the moon with all its heart.
I throw a stone.
Buried in the snow,
it begins another life.
Finally the moon rises.
Seven Little Songs Without Titles
I asked a child:
Do you want to be a beggar,
or a thief?
The child asked:
Why, is there nothing
but that in this world?
Indeed so. In this world, there is only the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.
of the things you have spent thirty years shouting for.
Let go of it forever.
One day in March I looked down at the Mongolian desert.
It looked like my father.
It looked like the face of my mother.
Above all, I felt ashamed of myself.
On top of a heap of garbage by the roadside
a trashed electric fan
is turning eagerly in the cold wind.
Passing by, I stopped there for a long time.
Ten years, thirty years, or fifty years,
if such time-spans were not transient,
if such life-spans were not transient,
humans would have become much more barbarous.
Oh, long live sublime transience!
may be a trivial day,
the day someone is being born,
someone is leaving,
Today too, the glow of the setting sun is glorious!
Zen koans are a trap, a pit.
A tiger falls into a pit and can’t get out again. Silly koan!