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Poetry

Pillow

By Lee Young-ju
Translated from Korean by Jae Kim
Each time my bones popped, snapped, I escaped through the chimney. I thought about what kind of crying to do.

“Pillow” is a poem by 2019 Poems in Translation Contest winner Lee Young-ju, translated into English by Jae Kim.


Listen to Lee Young-ju read her poem “Pillow” in the original Korean.


Listen to Jae Kim read the English translation of Lee Young-ju's “Pillow.”

Down in this sewer, have I become my friend? By the manmade waters where my school principal killed himself, geese cried. On the other side of the barbed-wire fence is a large cloudchimney. I put on a straw hat I picked up in the gutters.

When the clouds bent over, the geese cackled their beaks wide-open. The cry of the machine as it pushed the clouds through the conveyor into the chimney. Where are the better suicides? 

My father built his house on the waters’ edge, and every day he packed the clouds in, spun the machine. Those who wanted to sleep bought Father’s pillow. All night, eyes peeled, I bent my body and straightened my body, over and over. Each time my bones popped, snapped, I escaped through the chimney. I thought about what kind of crying to do.

Near sundown, I urged him, let’s go where there’s a crowd, but in the machine the geese were bleeding. For a good night’s sleep we need wet feathers, said Father. I sucked on my lips while counting the tags on the pillows. I believe the essence of those who died better deaths must go to the sewer, where innumerable sleeps flow.

When spinning the cotton machinery, I wore my hat. White feathers rose from the waters where those who killed themselves lay facedown. I took my hand, stepped on the feathers and went to school in the mornings. Waddling, I forged ahead.

“Pillow”  © Lee Young-ju. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Jae Kim. All rights reserved.

English Korean

“Pillow” is a poem by 2019 Poems in Translation Contest winner Lee Young-ju, translated into English by Jae Kim.


Listen to Lee Young-ju read her poem “Pillow” in the original Korean.


Listen to Jae Kim read the English translation of Lee Young-ju's “Pillow.”

Down in this sewer, have I become my friend? By the manmade waters where my school principal killed himself, geese cried. On the other side of the barbed-wire fence is a large cloudchimney. I put on a straw hat I picked up in the gutters.

When the clouds bent over, the geese cackled their beaks wide-open. The cry of the machine as it pushed the clouds through the conveyor into the chimney. Where are the better suicides? 

My father built his house on the waters’ edge, and every day he packed the clouds in, spun the machine. Those who wanted to sleep bought Father’s pillow. All night, eyes peeled, I bent my body and straightened my body, over and over. Each time my bones popped, snapped, I escaped through the chimney. I thought about what kind of crying to do.

Near sundown, I urged him, let’s go where there’s a crowd, but in the machine the geese were bleeding. For a good night’s sleep we need wet feathers, said Father. I sucked on my lips while counting the tags on the pillows. I believe the essence of those who died better deaths must go to the sewer, where innumerable sleeps flow.

When spinning the cotton machinery, I wore my hat. White feathers rose from the waters where those who killed themselves lay facedown. I took my hand, stepped on the feathers and went to school in the mornings. Waddling, I forged ahead.

“Pillow”  © Lee Young-ju. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Jae Kim. All rights reserved.

베개

이 하수도에서 나는 나의 친구가 된 것일까. 교장 선생님이 자살한 개천가에서
거위들이 울었다. 철조망 밖에는 커다란 구름 굴뚝. 나는 하수도 밑에서 주운
맥고모자를 썼다.
 

구름이 몸을 굽혔을 때 거위들은 썩썩 부리를 벌렸다. 열을 맞춰 구름을 굴뚝 안으로
밀어 넣는 기계 울음소리. 왜 더 나은 자살은 보이지 않는 것일까?
아버지는 천변 끝에 집을 지었는데 매일매일 구름을 기계 안에 넣고 돌렸다. 잠들고
싶은 자들은 아버지의 베개를 사 갔다. 나는 밤새도록 눈을 부릅뜨고 몸을 굽혔다 폈다.
뼈들이 덜그럭거릴 때마다 도망쳐서 굴뚝까지 올라갔다. 어떤 울음소리를 내야 할지
생각했다.
 

저물녘이 되면 많은 사람이 있는 곳으로 가자고 재촉했지만 기계 안에서 거위들이
피를 흘리고 있었다. 깊은 잠을 위해 촉촉한 깃털을 넣어야 한다는 아버지. 나는 베개
라벨지 숫자를 세며 입술을 빨았다. 아무래도 더 좋게 죽은 자들의 기운은 수많은 잠이
흘러가는 하수도로 가야 한다.

솜틀 기계를 돌릴 때에는 모자를 썼다. 자살한 자들이 엎드린 개천에서 흰 깃털이
날아올랐다. 나는 내 손을 잡고 깃털을 밟으면서 아침마다 학교에 갔다. 뒤뚱거리며
계속해서 앞으로 나아갔다.

 

“베개”  © Lee Young-ju. By arrangement with the author.  All rights reserved.

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