Tamjin River 18 by Wi Sun-hwan

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song

"Starry Night over the Rhone" by Vincent van Gogh (1888)

Tamjin River 18 by Wi Sun-hwan

The swarm of insects rubs against the sky with their wings–
they wore out and all fell down,
and now the stars are buzzing.

The stream of the river is bright; so are the insteps of my feet.
On a pitch dark night that blackened my eyes and ears,
I walked, groping my way,
following the stream
that flowed slower than my steps,
How long did I walk?
With a gait slower than the stream,
how long did I listen for the footsteps
following me with steps slower than mine?

At midnight a constellation would descend upon my back.

I continued to walk along, following
the stream. A few stars floating down the water
flickered and looked back at me,
anxiously murmuring many words–
I couldn’t even comprehend one or two of them.

The river’s bottom was packed with stars.

탐진강  18/ 위선환

날벌레떼가 잔 날갯짓을 비벼대던 하늘이다
날벌레들은 닳아서 모두 떨어졌고 지금은 별빛들이 잉잉거리고 있다

  강물줄기가 환하다 내 발등도 밝다

  어느 날은 눈자위 꺼지고 귓속 깜깜한 저녁에

  나는 걸어가며 몇 번이나 더듬대고 내 발걸음보다 더디게 흐르는 물줄기를 따라서 물줄기보다 더딘 발걸음으로 어디까지 오래 걸었던가 내 발걸음보다 더딘 걸음으로 뒤따라오는 발자국 소리를 얼마나 길게 귀 기울여서 들었던가

  자정에는 한 별자리가 내려와 등에 얹혔고

  나는 내내 걸어서 강물줄기를 뒤따라간다 물에 떠 흘러가는 별빛 몇이 깜박이며 뒤돌아보며 걱정스레 두런거리는 여러 말들을 고작 한두 마디도 못 알아듣는다

  강 밑바닥에 별빛이 꽉 찼다

(Originally published in New Writing from Korea, Volume 2, 2009)

A Sandfish II by Wi Sun-hwan

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photographed by Chae-Pyong Song

A Sandfish II by Wi Sun-hwan

What kind of fish do they dry and hang up in the air
to beat? A few silvery scales are flaking off.
I lift water’s scales, as if peeling shingles from a roof;
from the gravelly bottom of the river, a sandfish leaps and sinks down.

Though the river is already a deep blue, even without a beating,
if it was thrashed with a pole, even now wouldn’t it scream,
bending its waves? When a bird pecks at the bottom of the sky,
with its long beak lifted up, wouldn’t even the sky cry out?

Once, with my hard-clenched, bare fist
I would hit my own deep grooved ribs.

If a craftsman climbed a ladder
and hung a large barrel on a thick rope that he’s made,
and after tightening it with a leather string,
then pulling each end of the space,
made a large drum,
to thrash it with long, heavy drumsticks would only feel futile.

When you are desolate, too weary to stand, or when suddenly full of tears,
look up, the blank space weeps by itself already.

(Originally published in New Writing from Korea, Volume 2, 2009)

A Flock of Birds Transcribed by Wi Sun-hwan

Translated by Chae-Pyong Song and Anne Rashid

Photographed by Chae-Pyong Song

A Flock of Birds Transcribed by Wi Sun-hwan

In this season of migration–I write.
A flock of birds flies in, another flies out; that’s the blank space–
I write.

Facing each other, two flocks flying, crashing head-on,
striking their beaks, foreheads, ribs, wings–
I write.

Colliding birds, shot-through birds,
birds pierce through other birds–
I write.

Flocks shoot through flocks–I write.
They’ve already pierced through each other
when the flying flocks look back–
I write.

Birds and flocks are intact, none wounded,
no scrap of flesh, no bit of broken bone,
no feather fallen off the wings–
I write.

In the air, a bird’s body becomes empty–
a flock’s large body also becomes empty;
empty bodies pierce through each other,
so all is a blank space–
I write.

(Originally published in New Writing from Korea, Volume 2, 2009)

Wi Sun-hwan was born in Jangheung, South Jeolla Province. He debuted in 2001 when he published three poems, including “In the Suburbs” in the September issue of Modern Poetry. His poetry collections include The Trees Crossed the River, Tumbling from the Snow-covered Sky, and Copying a Flock of Birds. In Copying a Flock of Birds, the poet describes the unseen, and the world’s unseen dark side. He reveals the trace of a gaze that passes through the world and reaches the unseen, and uncovers a new order of things by comparing the seen and the unseen. The new world that produces the poet’s sharp imagination also measures the meaning and depth of the visible world.