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Injeolmi Rice Cakes

Once Maternal Grandmother set off, a basin of injeolmi rice-cakes on her head,
to sell in this neighborhood and that,
I would pull out scraps of glass, bottle tops, a broken pocketknife,
medicine bottles, a handle-less fruit knife, burst beanbags,
all hidden on the sunny side of the old wattle fence behind the privy,
and play with them.
Bored of even that after half a day,
I would chase the innocent chickens from the house behind,
then end up being scolded by my youngest aunt
for scuffling my shoes along.
I would eat, blowing hoo hoo, a bowl of sujaebi dough flakes soup, more kimchi than dough,
mingled with tears and snot.
Humming a line or two of “Yellow Shirt” that I’d learned from the radio,
I would collapse on the warm floor and sleep like a cat.
Then seeing the door was dim, unsure if it was morning or evening,
frightened, with one cheek bright red, I would cry out
and my aunt putting wood on the fire would pretend it was morning.
When Grandmother came home at sunset,
if her business had been good, I would be so disappointed.
I would lick my fingertips and dip them again and again
into the fine bean-powder remaining at the bottom of the basin
until my fingers pruned.

Ah, those injeolmi Grandmother
used to stuff into my mouth that gaped
with longing for Mother,
passing Yongsan Market, I meet them again, laid out on a shabby stall.
I meet Grandmother, huddled dozing.

인절미 © Kim Sa-in. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Susan Hwang. All rights reserved.