The Rust Tree by the Road by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photographed by Im Chang-jin

The Rust Tree by the Road by Jung Kut-byol
(길 섶 녹나무) 


In front of the window of my house
A road stretches out;
by the road a rust tree
grows up every night.


All the pedestrians
who can’t remember the roads they have walked
become rusty. Don’t we, the poor, witness this
down the roads we come and go upon daily?
The houses crumble down
and the roots of the rust tree move
punching big holes in the young one’s lungs,
collapsing the building’s scaffolding.

At first, the rust tree’s root is
fatigue gathered on the pedestrian’s soul,
dust descending on the bread crumbs of memory,
and paralysis and amnesia—
the whole picture of our love—
on the sky that we all possess
we make an open graveyard and lie crowded. 

Already at the window
rust leaves touch the lips.
When one by one they cover the roof,
children will become hags—
even your lover
will wither.
It’s fatal for the big tree, producing
rust bloom flowers.
Haven’t we seen the houses on the road
and the earth with words
rusted away?
On every road we traverse
rust trees bloom like the dead of night—
even the birds of childhood
and people change.


Beside me, about my love and around my house,
blooming in a crowd, ah, the smell of rust.

(Originally published in WSQ: Women’s Studies Quarterly, Volume 39, Numbers 3 & 4, Fall/Winter 2011)

Jung Kut-byol is a professor of Korean literature at Myungji University in Seoul, South Korea. Since 1988, she has worked as both a poet and a critic. She has published four poetry collections, My Life: A Birch Tree (1996), A White Book (2000), An Old Man’s Vitality (2005), and Suddenly (2008) and two collections of critical essays, The Poetics of Parody (1997) and The Language of Poetry Has a Thousand Tongues (2008). She has also edited an anthology titled In Anyone’s Heart, Wouldn’t a Poem Bloom? 100 Favorite Poems Recommended by 100 Korean Poets (2008).

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