A pair of feet, born so nimble,
Whirl around like the wind.
A soft scent wafts from the hem of her clothes;
Love blossoms all over the patterns of the carpet.
(She never said that she was tired.)
She knows how to use clever words
To coax the awkward pleasure of a patron.
She knows, too, how to use her wordless glances
To coat other people's hearts with honey.
(She never revealed her own heart.)
Red-colored and green-colored wine
Pin a spring blossom on her cheeks.
The scent of flesh intoxicates more than the wine's scent,
While her youth burns brighter than fire.
(Youth flees so fast she has no time to reflect.)
Her throat is gifted for singing,
Note after note draw an echo from your heart.
Joy, sorrow, she knows how to sing them all,
You need only name your choice.
(She never sings her own song.)
Alone she bears a night of solitude,
The lamp shines on four walls of quiet grief.
Memory lights up the way from the beginning,
She heaves a deep sigh and closes her eyes.
(This moment she has only herself in the world.)
(trans. from the Chinese by Kai-yu Hsu)
To Those Who Sing Ever So Gently
Get drunk, get drunk,
Those truly drunk are lucky
For paradise belongs to them.
If alcohol, books,
And lips that drip honey . . .
If none of these can cover up man's suffering,
If you proceed from being dead drunk to half sober
To fully awake finally,
Wouldn't you keep your hat cocked and
Your eyes half closed,
To act slightly intoxicated throughout your life?
The flies shivering in the cold wind
Flutter their wings before the paper window pane,
Dreaming of dead bodies,
Of watermelon rinds in high summer,
And of a dreamless void.
In the epilogue of my ridicule
I hear my own shame:
"You too are only buzzing and buzzing
Like a fly."
If I were a fly,
I'd await the sound of a fly swatter
Smashing on my head.
(trans. from the Chinese by Kai-yu Hsu)
I'm no artist but in bed
I can paint with my fingertip
your breast, your mouth and cheeks,
and surely that crooked smile
that floats around
your eyebrows as you sleep.
When the neighbors are gone
and even the crickets quiet
I am still too shy to sing
the songs you taught me
to the sleeping cat.
I am not a poet but I can describe
your glance, your voice,
the way you walk in the garden
before coming to bed,
even each separate pebble
on the path that runs
the twenty steps from here to there.
(trans. from the Korean by Bruce Taylor)
What the devil is his gripe
that he comes moaning in the night,
clearly cradling some complaint
against my father and mother,
against me and my wife to be?
My poems first, then my face,
a single hair out of place . . .
Indeed he's known to spy by day,
far away in the shadow of gloom,
reciting his weird incantations.
Though blood-red waves from the other
world drench his wings, he turns
unblinking eyes to the sky. Owl . . . owl . . .
long ago you built your round nest
and dwelt in the dark night of my mind.
(trans. from the Korean by Kevin O'Rourke)
Slowly the ocean-liner
moves in dreamy motion
as if an island were shifting ground,
weary of its fixed gravity.
Like a baby whale coming for milk,
the pilot boat comes near,
snuggles the ship for a while
and then reluctantly moves away,
leaving the island on the sea.
A little hurt despite its elegance,
the ocean liner struggles over the boundary
between affection and disowning
and gradually travels into memory.
(trans. from the Korean by Chang-soo Koh)
Once one year, and I don't know when,
So lonely I could not stand it,
I became a wanderer and spent the year
roaming the mountain district,
and as I did I broke and gathered
a handful of flowers, a bouquet.
That bouquet of flowers I
gave to some child by the roadside.
That child by the roadside
by now must have grown,
and perhaps being lonely he too
has plucked a handful of flowers
to give to some other child.
And after some ten years have passed,
crossing over yet one more bridge,
might that present of the bouquet
pass on to a child I haven't seen?
And so on a certain day
one thousand, or one thousand five hundred
years from now, below a mountain
where the sky is clearing after rain,
on a vast plain as the sun begins to fall,
where the hand of a new wanderer extends the bouquet,
is the child coming to receive it?
(trans. from the Korean by David R. McCann)
The sand is swift, overflowing,
burrowing inside itself, searching
for remnants, tombstones, ancestors'
I never understood this hunger
for the past. I
am a series of instants,
shed my skin with ease,
In all this desert only I can guess
who was who.
(trans. from the Hebrew by Stephen Mitchell)