The Tongue by Moon Tae-jun

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Darcy Brandel

The Tongue by Moon Tae-jun

Woken up at dawn
the thought of Mother who is ill
cuts me

As a child
when a speck blew into my eye,
Mother cleaned her mouth with cold water
and licked
my eyeball
my soul
with the softest flesh
with her tongue

And when I dozed on and off
while tending  the burning fire hole
in her eyes
fire flashed with worry
from the hole to the chimney

Celebrating the seventh day of the seventh month
she prayed tenderly with both hands
becoming a stone Buddha
The stone Buddha now sits
as her eyeballs

In what life
not inheriting the life from her
could I become an indifferent
fine-tooth comb for her hair?

In what life
could my tongue
wash out
her stone eyeball?

Slowly stretching out my neck to her
I cried and cried
The wet morning

moontaejunphotoMoon Tae-jun (1970-) has published four collections of poetry: Chattering Backyard (2000), Bare Foot (2004), Flatfish (2006), and Shadow’s Development (2008) as well as other essays and commentary. One of the most popular poets of the younger generation, Moon uses deceptively simple poetic language with profound lyricism, commenting on the struggle of daily life. Grounded in Buddhist philosophy, his poems speak with reverence for all forms of life and emphasize the necessity of emptying oneself. Moon is a recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Dongseo Literature Award (2004),  the Midang Literature Award (2005), and the Sowol Poetry Award (2007).

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