The Benevolent Oak Tree by Jung Kut-byol

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

The Benevolent Oak Tree by Jung Kut-byol

Insects live inside an oak tree that is hollow–
inside it they nest, hiding their naked bodies.
In the hollow oak tree mushrooms and mosses live–
they take root there and bloom.
In the hollow oak tree woodpeckers live–
there they grind their beaks and peck insects.
In the hollow oak tree bats live–
they sleep there dangling upside down.
In the hollow oak tree owls live–
they make nests there and hatch their babies.
In the hollow oak tree badgers and foxes live–
they burrow in and make it their home.

Because of all the people living in the hollow house
listening to the hollow music
eating the hollow rice
of the hollow oak tree,
mothers, with hollow insides, withstand strong winds–
mothers, with hollow insides, withstand big famines.
They shake off big snow with their slightly drooping branches–
they rot away their whole lives–
the insides of all the mothers in the world.

속 좋은 떡갈나무/ 정끝별

속 빈 떡갈나무에는 벌레들이 산다
그 속에 벗은 몸을 숨기고 깃들인다.
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 버섯과 이끼들이 산다
그 속에 뿌리를 내리고 꽃을 피운다
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 딱따구리들이 산다
그 속에 부리를 갈고 곤충을 쪼아먹는다
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 박쥐들이 산다
그 속에 거꾸로 매달려 잠을 잔다
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 올빼미들이 산다
그 속에 둥지를 틀고 새끼를 깐다
속 빈 떡갈나무에는 오소리와 여우가 산다
그 속에 굴을 파고 집을 짓는다

속 빈 떡갈나무 한 그루의
속 빈 밥을 먹고
속 빈 노래를 듣고
속 빈 집에 들어 사는 모두 때문에
속 빈 채 큰 바람에도 떡 버티고
속 빈 채 큰 가뭄에도 썩 견디고
조금 처진 가지로 큰 눈들도 싹 털어내며
한세월 잘 썩어내는
세상 모든 어미들 속

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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