Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid
The Rice Ball of Tears by Koh Jung-hee (1948-1991)
The rice ball on which even the angel of death shed tears,
the rice ball over which sisters and brothers sobbed:
have you eaten the rice ball of Gwangju?
The rice ball that makes a fire pillar rise up after you eat it,
the rice ball that makes the Youngsan River roll up and down
when you share it:
have you eaten the rice ball of freedom?
The rice ball mixed with Mother’s blood tears
at the floor of the Hakdong Market
and at the Yangdong Market,
the rice ball seasoned with the sisters’ wailing
at Hwajungdong, on Hwasun Neorit Hill,
on Kumnam Street, and at Sansoodong:
have you eaten the rice ball of sanctuary?
Have you eaten the rice ball of community?
Oh, love, love, love,
the apocalyptic river water of May,
the people who will run to Gwangju, toward Gwangju
until we climb up Mudeung Mountain, Lake Chunji of Baekdu Mountain,
climbing over Lake Baekrock of Halla Mountain,
wash the snow and the rice in the deep blue lakes of Baekrock and Chunji
that will feed more than sixty million people
and share the rice ball of reunification,
the rice ball of equality,
the rice ball of humanity,
let us flare up as rice and firewood
at the home where dim evening smoke rises at dusk.
저승 사자들도 눈물 흘린 주먹밥
형제자매 뜨겁게 오열하던 주먹밥
광주의 주먹밥 먹어보았나
삼키면 불기둥 일어서는 주먹밥
나누면 영산강이 굽이치는 주먹밥
자유의 주먹밥 먹어보았나
어머니의 피눈물로 버무린 주먹밥
화정동에서 화순 너릿재에서
자매들의 통곡으로 간을 맞춘 주먹밥
해방구의 주먹밥 먹어보았나
공동체의 주먹밥 먹어보았나
사랑이여 사랑이여 사랑이여
오월의 종말론적 강물이여
무등산에 백두 천지연 올라
백두 천지연에서 한라 백록담 올라
백록담과 천지연 그 시퍼런 물에
육천만 먹고 남을 쌀 씻고 눈 씻어
통일의 주먹밥 나누는 그날까지
인류의 주먹밥 나누는 그날까지
광주로 광주로 달려갈 겨레여,
해거름녘 저녁연기 아련한 고장
우리 쌀과 장작불로 타오르고 타오르자
Koh Jung-hee (1948 – 1991) was born in Haenam, Jeollanam-do, and studied at Hanshin University. A passionate feminist, she often offered sharp criticism on modern Korean society, whether it was political oppression or gender inequality. In June, 1991, she died, swept up by a torrential rain, while climbing up the Snake Valley of Jiri Mountain, a mountain she loved a great deal and wrote about often. Known for resistance poetry, particularly based upon the Gwangju Uprising, as well as for lyric poems, she derived many of her poetic inspirations from Gwangju and Jeolla-do (often known as Nam-do). In her lifetime she published at least ten collections of poetry and received the Korean Literature Award in 1983.
Awesome connection of simple daily food with the deepest mysteries of nature, community, and the human spirit.
This is a food that mothers of Gwangju made for the demonstrators during the uprising. A strong metaphor of community and companionship here.
Lovely! I once had a neighbor who made rice balls almost every day–very yummy ones. Your poem made me want to make some–maybe next week!