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Gamak Valley

During wartime the men die,
the women survive.
Cockerels have their necks twisted and die,
hens sit on eggs.

Gamak Valley in Yeonsan,
north of Nonsan in South Chungcheong
is where sharp hills
approach the ridges of Mount Gyeryong.

Fifty men died there, once,
while two men
twisted their hair into topknots and revered Kim Il-Bu’s esoteric “Jeongyeok.”
The small room, the door of which is never opened
was pitch dark even at midday.

Yeonsan’s Gamak Valley.

Some forty women survived:
old widows,
young concubine widows,
young widows,
old maids.

If an unfamiliar man appears, their eyes light up.

They each offer a gourd of water with a willow leaf on it.

You must be thirsty.
You look thirsty.
You’re thirsty.

The woman from Buyeo with wide cheekbones,
hastily comes forward.

Drink this water.
I have no idea who you are or where you are from,
yet your face looks familiar.
If you are hungry
I will warm some cold rice, so you can eat before you go on.

The woman from Ganggyeong poured the water out of her gourd,
grumbling:

Yesterday she was making up to a male dog,
today she’s clinging to a man instead of a beast, that slut.

『가막골,from만인보. © Ko Un. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha. All rights reserved.