Scale and Stairs

If you climbed up the back stairs to the church
a piano stood like a sad black animal
in a corner of the nave.


The child reflected in the black sheen of the piano
opened the cover and cautiously began to play.
Though her hands were too small
to thaw the frozen keyboard,
the sound rising into the cold air of the church
was incense for a ten-year-old to burn.
The back door opened,
and when the deacon and his old mother entered
she shut the cover and walked down the stairs.
There were two cushions in the nave
where the old woman and her son knelt
to worship in a strange tongue.
The child learned the fascination of frenzy
watching their ecstatic worship on the stairs.
The sound rising into the cold air
froze again along with the keyboard.
For a long time the black sheen of the piano
silently reflected their prayers,
their frenzy, the gestures they repeated.


A piano has scales
because its blackness swallowed some landscapes.
And while the child sat on the stairs waiting
to play,
the air darkened by a half tone.


Translation of "Eumgyewa Kyedan." Copyright Ra Heeduk. By arrangement with the author. Translation copyright 2007 by Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill. All rights reserved.


Read the author's "Cutting off a Finger."