- One Day, Then Another
Tr. Cho Young-Shil 2014106pp.
One Day, Then Another, by Kim Kwang- Kyu cannot be simplified into a few themes or concepts. Rather it ranges widely across the world, and through time and space. Kim takes us on a journey through loss and grief, war and shame, death and meanings/iterations of life. His poems take the reader through occupation/insurgence, historical periods of peace/prosperity, to the ever-silent present whether in cityscape or countryside. He is magnificently aware, open, receptive/perceptive. Though deeply complex, I want to focus on the textures of silence, loneliness, failure, and pain throughout these poems.
Kim takes us to the transit station and shows us a brief and silent meeting, “…We were each in a rush, so we briefly / clasped hands then parted. That / was it. We’ve never met again, although / we both live in Seoul day after day.” (“At the Transit Station”). Touch, so very integral to the human experience, but there is only time for visual recognition, to briefly touch, to let go, to depart. Kim recognizes that both this meeting and life are brutally short/long, and yet we fill it with “empty parenthesis”: job, money. Of time Kim tells us, “… the rest / is granted to the living, / who continue inside empty parenthesis, / unaware of the monotony therein.” (“One’s Dying Year”). Our ability to recognize and connect has failed. In turn we fail to fill the parenthesis with anything but minutiae to pass the time.
Still there is need for survival in the most painful and lonely situations. As people flee to the city Kim shows us who is left behind. “Father passed on thirty long years ago; / mother spent the rest of her days in that house, alone. / A crumbling country house, / … / A house you can’t sell: / everyone has left for the cities.” (“Vacant House”) The countryside is thrown into abandoned silence as its residents leave for the cities. Nothing is left but this crumbling house, the pain of death, the guilt of abandonment, and the inability to let go. “Every year I receive a property tax notice / for this vacant property, / a house on its way out, flickering like a straw fire / in a corner of this aging orphan’s heart / this sinner, who against his will, has two homes.” (“Vacant House”)