Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid
The Blooming Public Phone by Kim Kyung-ju
After work the female factory workers open
the cold locks of their bikes they had parked together.
When large snowflakes like white rice fall outside of the window,
the female workers on the night shift at the wig factory
jump over the wall and rush to the public phone on their breaks.
They press down the snowflakes one by one with their pocketbooks.
The more uneven their teeth are, the more brightly they wave.
In spite of the wind blowing in through the gaps in makeshift walls
and the dusty light bulb, the snow heaps up.
When they press their frozen ears to the receiver
shaking off the encrustation of old numbers,
the clear signals are transmitted—
of the first love that had been cut off like a fingernail
and even of Mother’s hearing aid wrapped within a handkerchief in a drawer—
they all plunge into their hearts.
Each of these signals is stitched into their hearts.
When Chang the foreman puts chains across each alley and leaves,
the female workers take off their white cotton gloves;
their cold fingertips are puffy.
Every place where injuries occur, seams become crooked,
sleepy eyes become hazy over heaps of hair that await weaving.
All night underneath sewing machines the women call out
paper, rock, and scissors
to decide phone privileges; their calls bloom and wither,
but the radio static continues on.
(Originally published in Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature and Culture, Volume 5 )
Kim Kyung-Ju was born in Gwangju in 1976. He studied philosophy at Sogang University. His poetry collections include I am a Season that Doesn’t Exist in This World, The Strange Story, and Calming the Parallactic Eyes. He was awarded the Today’s Young Artist Award and the Kim Su-young Literature Award.