Spring Contest Runner Up in Translation: To the Roots

To the Roots

In that deep place when you were my root
since I was soft newly-tilled earth
I can remember you well.
From the place where you took your first breath a hot steam rose
and after the bright blood bled into you, you trembled out of pleasure
Ah, my love

My root who thirsted in front of the faraway well
prick and climb me,
my flesh is bright and easily broken
so go on, happily reach out and dip your foot into my shining blood.

Each time your spine broke and broadened
I became a tender bowl holding you
and even though the fire-like wind stopped to beat at my chest
I who consistently blessed your edges that kept on reaching out
took foolish and secret pleasure from it.

Look at my flesh that grows more solid
as you go down.
From my skin
now dark with age and threaded with a single shoot of sorrow
please take the last sip.

In that deep place when you were my roots
from my chest worms used to boil over
but now it’s an empty bowl,
when your green stem rises and glitters in the sun
I will be as fertile as the hillside’s tender earth.

Setting Sun

Now I see your darkening expression doesn’t go so far as to be dark.
Red sun,
now I see even though your back is being dragged you aren’t submissive.
Your rust doesn’t make the sound of a chain
while heading beyond that slope of darkness
so now I see you go by the strength of your own foot.
Now I see when I am tied up by one point of worry
and wandering the streets
your love that warms my tear,
that also embarrassingly stains the entirety of my wounded body,
that comforts the crying clouds
as they are dragged away
probably wasn’t realized in a day.
Love, once on fire but now abandoned in the street
now I see your radiant face that once turned towards me
suddenly became a whip, the last thing left in my heart.

Flower of Shade

We, a bunch of rotting oak trees,
stand on this land with the sorrow of logging
inside the perverse valley
and spend all winter leaning on each other.
The more we rot together
the more the wind shakes us in that high place
and finally the spores that slept wake up
then mushrooms explode from every prick of wound on our bodies.
Magnificent flower of shade
now I see that though we slowly rot
you burst like a rain shower
and in an instant the suffering stops.
Oh, mushroom
now I see our bodies that can’t be covered
by the dead leaves rolling on the hillside
or by the wind wandering the valley
are filled with the malice of rootless you.

We Left the Field

We left the field. So at the base of a hill, in the shadow of a bridge and castle wall
we unrolled our bedding. An oil lamp that illuminated the darkness inside the cave of
earth and mud, under that trembling glow the shining eyes of crouching children doing
their homework, children are the last root of the ones who couldn't put down roots.

In the evening we gathered there with our red eyeballs while in the glowing
twilight behind our backs a wet mass of clouds flocked by. Who do the sheep of poverty
we are rearing belong to? Face and hands stained with dirt, the smell of wet sheep, if we
leave the field then where else must we flock to?

The cave of earth and mud is filled with the crying of every frog, I dream a sweet
dream of the childish days when I’d walk the banks of the rice fields imitating the frog’s
hiccupping sob, but a dream where the paddy fields are split and splintered at last, from
the ceiling the start of a rumble and running crack as an excavator drives right in then
even our dream space is raided.

If the cold sweat running down the sleeping face is washed away, soon even the
darkness that flowed over the ceiling will disappear and the world will begin to show. As
if it is a dream the far away field can be seen. The tails of our clothes that leave the field
to be pushed someplace else can be seen.

When I Go to The Mountain in Winter

When I go to the mountain in winter
only the stumps of the trees that are snowed on remain.
When I push aside the heaped snow with my hand
the exposed tree rings are looking at me.
The more I look
the more I see the extraordinarily broad forehead
and thick ears, over those I see a lonely path going up.
Meanwhile when I smooth away the heaped snow again
there is the back of my hand made tired by the dark moisture
and above my feverish lips
tears as clear as water stream down.
Even now the sawdust that spilled out as it was cut
is scattered within the dried up bark
and shines with the sweat of a mother who has given birth,
next to it there are young things still without tree rings
young enough to be vanished when broken
growing from where they took root.

Mother who even when hacked at
cut with an axe and then buried beneath the snow
silently remained then stayed waiting,
when I’m on the mountain getting snowed on
from start to finish
there are tree rings watching me.

Author and Translator Bios

Lauren Albin received her MFA from Arizona State University in 2016. She is a co-translator of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror (Action Books, 2019) and recipient of an KLTI Translation support grant for her translation of Ra Heeduk’s The Word that Stained the Leaves. Her translations have appeared in The Southeast Review, CIRCUMFERENCE, and Korean Literature Now among others. 

Ra Heeduk is the author of eight poetry and three prose collections. Her poetry has received such recognition as the Yi San Literary Prize, Sowol Literary Award and the Midang Literary Award. The poems selected here come from Ra’s first collection of poetry, To the Roots (Changbi, 1991). Her robustness of phrase, kneaded in poems of intense introspection and self examination are essential to the arc of Korean literature. Other collections in translation include Scale & Stairs, Wild Apple, and Le ver à soie marqué d’un point noir. She currently teaches creative writing at Chosun University in Kwangju, South Korea.

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