Next week, Black Ocean will release Lee Young-ju's poetry collection Cold Candies, translated from Korean by Jae Kim. The collection includes “Roommate, Woman,” one of the winners of WWB's 2019 Poems in Translation Contest, as well as the haunting prose poem presented below.
An Evening of Sugar-Eating
We were not woman and man when we walked on the riverbank. Our pockets full of sugar by evening. We haven’t forgotten how the storms that surrounded our belly buttons vanished. Breathing into each other’s ears, we giggled, like a tribe of sparkling-sweet people.
Wind gathered at the crowns of tall children’s heads. Each time their heads tipped toward the adults downstream, their faces lost an expression. We couldn’t see through the evening cloud that fell over the riverbank. The screams we conjured by sketching them in the air with our sticks—despite the strong wind, they became the cold season.
We nibbled our lips outside the school gates. We ran our tongues over them, melted them, and swallowed them. While squeezing each other’s necks, which had grown suddenly long. While grains of sugar spilled out of our pockets. In our bodies, genes continued to assemble, despite being dead.
If there’s sugar left in our pockets, we’re not woman and man. We post our self-criticisms on the evening window. Coming home from school, flicking our red tongues, we open our mouths wide. We become a tribe of people who scratch each other’s extended necks and hope to sweeten ourselves.
Before the storm: foam on the shore.
From Cold Candies, © 2021 by Lee Young-ju. Translation © 2021 by Jae Kim. Forthcoming from Black Ocean. Reprinted by arrangement with the publisher. All rights reserved.