My mother has always been a poet. Constantly scribbling, yet unable to spread her wings most of her life due to life’s obligations. I’d love to introduce you to one of her creations here. I only hope I was able to do justice in translating it.
비내리는 날의 일기 ㅡ 소귀골(牛耳洞)을 걸으며…
골목 어귀를 채우고,
비에 젖어 즐거운 듯
나를 보고 반가워
기다리는 작은 기쁨,
기다리고 있는 소망,
가을 기다림으로 해
작은 열매를 보는 거,
Diary on a rainy day – Walking Soguigol street
– Soo Mok Won
So close yet so far
Is how I would describe the twisted backstreets
that leads to the old bath house
As I walk through Soguigol street,
torrential rain fills the mouth of its alley
The thick old walnut tree waves its arms
with the joy of soaking summer rain
It is delighted to see me
And urges me to chat about the coming of the fall
My inner romance is in
A tiny joy of waiting
A tiny hope of longing
And seeing the tiny seed of overcoming the summer heat
Through waiting for the fallAlthough perhaps it might be trifling,
The moment fills my heart with fullness.
My mother is a poet and an intellectual, but she spent many years not actively writing because as a married woman in Korea, she did not have as much freedom to do so. As a person who feels the urge to write constantly, I can imagine how it feels to have to block out that feeling. Living in the U.S., I am not as limited by the role of a woman, but the reality regardless intrudes and I am forever pushing my writing behind the day-to-day life. Writing poetry only feeds one’s soul, no? And the reality wins out…
I initially started writing poetry when I was a teenager, but abandoned it because…I am not sure why. Perhaps I felt poetry came too easily to me, which meant I was not good? My reasoning for stopping is very convoluted. Instead of poetry, I spent most of what little writing time I had on writing stories. The result is that I have not written a single poem for many years. Now full of nostalgia, I start again…like my mother who picked up her pen again as she got older.
Below is a short poem written in English, translated to Korean as best as I could.
When I close my eyes,
What do I see?
Grey and melancholic.
And I hear a song
that I had forgotten.
My heart sings to me,
Of love and sadness.
When I open my eyes,
That song fades away,
And my heart is forgotten.
눈을 감 으면
저에게 무엇이 보일까요?
색이 바랜 추억들,
그리고 내가 잊었던
노래가 들려 옵니다.
내 마음이 제게
사랑과 슬픔에 대한
하지만 눈을 뜨면
그 노래는 사라져 버리고
내 마음은 잊혀집니다.
I don’t have many stories of my dad’s younger years as he has never been a talkative man. The only stories I have heard repeatedly are mostly stories from the three mandatory years he served in the military. Korea had and still has a compulsory military system. In my father’s days, they had to serve three years. Now I believe it is closer to two. So there are just a few stories that I know about my father besides the ones about his military years; one of which is the story about the pigeons.
My father hates pigeons. He generally likes animals and I thought he had a fairly fond spot for birds. I mean I had a veritable zoo of birds when I was young which I had to feed and maintain so I assume he liked birds. I figured he just didn’t like pigeons for some reason. I don’t like them either since they are a bit like rats with wings. So I didn’t really think much of my father’s reason for disliking them. Then one day out of the blue he told me the reason why he hates pigeons.
My father was around nine when the Korean war started and he had to flee his home with his family. I am not totally sure where exactly his home had been nor where they had to flee to. I think his home was somewhere near Daejeon (mid-ish part of South Korea) and he had to flee to somewhere near Pusan (only area not at one point taken by the North). As there was not many places to put so many refugees, he and his family had to spend their “refugee period” at a temporary shelter, which was a public school. That made sense since public schools tend to have lots of rooms and bathrooms.
He told me that there were so many corpses from the war that they could not bury them fast enough, which meant they had to be put somewhere until the burial. Unlike now, there were really no morgues or cold houses so the place people piled up corpses ended up being the bathrooms (coldest place I guess) of these temporary shelters. My father remembers having to go to the bathroom at night, alongside these piles of corpses and the only sounds he had heard had been the sounds of pigeons. So to this day, the sound of pigeons gives him the creeps (literal translation). Some experiences stays with us forever it seems.