That May by Kwak Je-gu

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Melanie Steyn

Photography by Jang Jae-wan

That May by Kwak Je-gu

I walk along the riverbank
where milk vetch blooms profusely.
Where have I seen him?
A man in familiar dress
is walking up against the river current—
in dyed, battered military pants
with an out-of-season winter parka.
A few purple milk vetch blooms pinned
to his backpack
flutter in the wind.
He looks around twenty-three years old.
In his gaunt face his eyes are shining,
and we are brothers though I don’t know where we may have met.
Carried on the wind that brushes our clothes,
we greet each other passionately with our eyes.
The wind that carries us keeps asking, did we find our love
that May or did we lose it in the end?
The petals of the milk vetch flowers rise up all together.
The flowers that fell that May,
have they perhaps risen again as small nameless wild grasses
somewhere on this riverside?
Having risen up, are they burning
the spring riverbank with their bodies?
Looking back, I can see the back of the man in the distance,
and only milk vetch flowers shine as if out of breath
along the rolling river current.

그 오월에/ 곽재구

자운영 흐드러진
강둑길 걷고 있으면
어디서 보았을까
낯익은 차림의 사내 하나
강물 줄기를 거슬러 올라간다
염색한 낡은 군복 바지에
철 지난 겨울 파커를 입고
등에 맨 배낭 위에
보랏빛 자운영 몇 송이 꽃혀
바람에 하늘거린다
스물 서넛 되었을까
야윈 얼굴에 눈빛이 빛나는데
어디서 만났는지 알지 못해도 우리는 한 형제
옷깃을 스치는 바람결에
뜨거운 눈인사를 한다
그 오월에 우리는 사랑을 찾았을까
끝내 잊었을까 되뇌이는 바람결에
우수수 자운영 꽃잎들이 일어서는데
그 오월에 진 꽃들은
다시 이 강변 어디에 이름도 모르는 조그만
풀잡맹이들로 피어났을까
피어나서 저렇듯 온몸으로 온몸으로 봄 강둑을
불태우고 있을까
돌아보면 저만치 사내의 뒷모습이 보이고
굽이치는 강물 줄기를 따라
자운영 꽃들만 숨가쁘게 빛나고

Kwak Je-gu (곽재구) was born in Gwangju in 1954. He studied Korean literature at Chonnam National University. He made his literary debut as a poet with “At Sapyung Station,” which won the Spring literary award organized by the Joongang Daily in 1982. From 1981 to 1987, he worked as a member of “May Poetry,” a group of creative writers deeply inspired by the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. His poetry collections include At Sapyung StationJeonjang-po ArirngKorean LoversA Song of Seoul and The Clear Current. He currently teaches creative writing at Suncheon National University. In 1996, he received the Dongseo Literary Award.

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