"Together with a Chicken"
- onNovember 14, 2014
- Vol.14 Winter 2011
- byJung Young Moon
- An Afternoon of the Faun
Together with a Chicken (from An Afternoon of the Faun)
It was early dawn when I woke up from sleep at the sound of a cry. The sound continued in several long stretches, and only after listening to it for some time after I woke up did I realize that it was the crow of a chicken. I think at first I thought it was the sound of someone quietly tapping a triangle in the dark, then the sound of someone’s muffled scream, then the sound of a bird crying, a long-necked bird like a red-crowned crane, for instance. It became clear, however, that it was the crow of a chicken.
Listening to the crow of the chicken which continued for quite some time, I found it strange and wonderful at the same time that I could hear a chicken crowing nearby at home in a city, but I thought there was nothing odd about hearing a chicken crow at dawn.
Slowly coming to myself at the continuing sound of the chicken crow, I lay still and listened to the sound, thinking that even though a chicken crowed several times a day, there was no crow like the crow at dawn, and that the chicken itself, knowing that better than anyone, probably put the most effort into the first crow at dawn after a night’s sleep, considering it the best. Then in a moment, I quickly thought, like someone who was facing a great danger and thinking of a way to get out of it, a somewhat silly thought, that it could be very disappointing for a chicken to hear another chicken crow at dawn before it did, and that it could be very disheartening for a chicken to hear another chicken crow louder than it did. It seemed a little funny that I had a thought like that as soon as I woke up at dawn, which pleased me quite a bit. Still lying down, I looked out the window with a smile on my face.
I assumed from the crow that the chicken was a rooster—hens don’t crow in such an arrogant way, parading themselves—and the rooster was probably quite large. I opened the window so that I may better hear the sound that, together with dawn, had awakened me. It was dark outside with a thick mist, which reached the windowsill, which made the window in my room look like a window of a ship, and it seemed that it would be appropriate if a whistle hooted somewhere in the mist. The moment I threw open the window all the way, however, the crow of the chicken, which had been continuing in long stretches, came to a complete stop like magic. It was as if the act of opening of the window had led to the closing of a door, shutting out the sound completely. I could no longer hear the sound of the chicken crow after that, no matter how long I waited. That chicken has failed to make a lonely man at early dawn continue to focus all his attention as though to receive a signal sent from an unknown being in a distant, unknown world, I muttered like someone who was shy.
I looked at the thick mist in the air where the crowing had stopped, and for a moment was tempted to walk out the window of my second-story room, to fall lightly into the void. A moment later, I closed the window after filling my lungs with the dawn air, which had been full of the sound of crowing, but as I expected, I didn’t hear the crowing. It was over. It was the same throughout the day, and the next day at dawn. Still, I couldn’t stop myself easily from thinking all day about the crowing that had gently shaken up the dawn for a little while.
Maybe someone had brought a chicken home to keep it, or because someone he knew had asked him to take care of it for a little while, then taken it back because the neighbors complained too much when it crowed at dawn. Or maybe someone who always took his chicken around with him, because he couldn’t bear to be apart from it no matter where he went, had visited him for a night, then left. I made an attempt to think so, though it wasn’t very likely, because it made me feel good just to imagine that there was a man who traveled around with his pet chicken. They could travel together and look at the scenery unfolding out the window together, or look at each other as though they had read each other’s thoughts, or fall asleep together, or wake up from sleep and feel happy that they had each other by their side. Or maybe the chicken was still at the house, but for some reason didn’t want to crow ever again after dawn that day.
In any case, I was quite sad that I couldn’t hear the chicken crow again. To ease my sadness, I took out a snapshot of a chicken from my desk drawer and looked at it, and I had to spend some time during the day sitting on the windowsill for quite a while, looking at the birds flying over to the branches out the window, but they only chirped, none of them crowing like a chicken. Only chickens cried as though to blow off steam. Other birds only spoke, and didn’t shout like chickens. The cry of a chicken was like that of an elephant or an wolf. It also had something in common with the sound of a bell.
Still, I considered it a good omen for a trip I was planning at the time—it would be more precise to say, a trip I was vaguely imagining, or to say that I had allowed vague thoughts about a trip to gently stir up my mind—that I got to hear the crow of a rooster that dawn. The trip I was thinking of, however, could be something like a vague story whose plot grew more and more vague, with the characters disappearing as well, or something that was close to something like that, not an actual trip.
The next night, a woman, a friend of mine, came to visit. She said that she could no longer hear the hallucinations she had been hearing for some time, and I said I was sorry. From time to time, she had heard a muffled sound, like a sound from the other side of the wall. I told her how I’d heard a chicken crow at dawn the day before. She said it had been quite some time since she’d heard a chicken crow at dawn, and I said that a chicken that crowed at the top of its voice like that may crow, thinking that none other could do it better, and that it was doing something none other could do, and could not be entrusted to any other.
She said that someone she knew had left a mynah in her care. The mynah was quite arrogant in a way, and tended to look down on people. She said that the bird, which was also bright, would throw back the latch on the birdcage and go out into the living room and walk around for a bit, then quietly go back into the cage as if being out of the cage didn’t change anything, and as if it had come out of the cage even though it wasn’t unaware of that, and as if that was why it had to quickly go back inside the cage, and then close the door by throwing back the latch again, and sit on the perch as if nothing had happened and quietly look at people in a scornful attitude, as if that was all there was for it to do as a mynah. I said that I wanted to see the mynah that looked at people in a scornful attitude, and that I hoped it never lost or abandoned the attitude. She said that the mynah, which had already grown into the attitude, would not change.
We went on talking about birds, and after talking about something, we became curious as to why chickens or other birds bobbed their heads incessantly as they walked. We weren’t sure, but we concluded that maybe they did so in order not to forget the fact that they were birds, or to maintain their balance, which could easily be lost as they walked on their two legs, by bobbing their heads.
Being in a good mood, I asked her to tell me about an experience she had while traveling in China. I had heard the story several times before, but it put me in a good mood whenever I heard it, so I always asked her to tell it to me. We began to drink beer together, and she began the story.
She once went on a trip to China with a friend, and had an experience not to be forgotten for the rest of her life. They were traveling on the Yangtze River on a ship, when three robbers disguised as passengers tried to rob the passengers, but were found out and jumped into the river and swam away. She said that they looked quite fabulous as they swam casually away like cormorants in the Yangtze River after jumping into the water like frogs, and that she learned later on that they were a family of robbers that went back generations, and that maybe they went back to the era of Water Margin and had been carrying on their family business since then, and thus had great pride in what they did.
The story was fabulous enough, but the story I wanted to hear at the time was one about chickens, not robbers. I wanted to hear the story about chickens more than anything.
My friend and her friend arrived at a little village in a remote area in China. They saw a rooster standing at the mouth of the village as if waiting for them. It looked quite dignified, holy, even, and before long, they readily followed the rooster—guided by the rooster, according to my friend’s words—to a house, and a woman greeted the visitors her rooster had brought. My friend and her friend, however, were so tired and hungry that they wanted to eat even the chicken that was so dignified, and they let the woman know how they felt. The woman said without hesitation that she would prepare the chicken in return for some money. She caught the chicken and began to prepare it, and in the process tried to use spices they didn’t like, so they had to stay by the furnace to keep her from doing so, but she used the spices when they were off guard and made it so they couldn’t eat it. In the end, the dignified rooster wrapped up its life by filling up the stomachs of the woman and her family.
Afterwards, I saw a picture of the chicken my friend had tried to eat but couldn’t, which didn’t look at all holy as she’d said, or dignified, either, but it did seem that it was keeping up certain appearances, appearances that could perhaps be kept up only by all the chickens in the world. Still, when I saw the picture of the dead chicken, I felt an odd feeling as though I were looking at the picture of a distant relative I never knew, who had died long ago.
She felt terrible that she had made the dignified chicken die just to appease her hunger, but afterwards, she saw another rooster along with several hens in the woman’s backyard, a rooster that looked just like the one that had just died, as though it had been reincarnated. She said, however, that the terrible feeling she had about making the chicken die did not go away.
The picture of the rooster—it was the picture I took out of my desk drawer and looked at on the day I heard the chicken crow at dawn—was not the only thing she showed me at the time. She took pictures of many chickens she encountered while traveling in China, and chickens were the only things she took pictures of on that trip. No, to be precise, there were only chickens at times, and people and other animals as well at times, in the pictures she took of chickens. The focus, however, was always on the chickens, which made the chickens the central figure of the pictures. She said that she didn’t know why she’d decided to take pictures of so many chickens, but that once she began to take pictures of them, she didn’t want to take pictures of anything else. I looked at the different chickens in a variety of poses, seemingly lost in different thoughts, and they were more impressive than any other travel record. She said she could recall vivid memories about her trip while looking at the chickens in the pictures. She also said that she’d had a wonderful trip because she took pictures only of chickens, and because of the chickens. Perhaps she could, in the same way, take pictures of only cows if she went to India, and of camels and donkeys if she went to Central Asia. A dignified or contemptible looking chicken, walking around or standing quietly in the garden or the ruins of a grand temple, could actually be much more impressive than the temple itself.
We continued to talk, while drinking, about raising chickens, and talked about things we could speak more freely about because we didn’t really intend to actually raise chickens, for instance, about how many chickens would be good—the number of chickens we could raise could theoretically start from one and increase infinitely, but we could always maintain a certain number of chickens, a hundred and forty-two, for instance—and whether we would raise just chickens—we could raise along with the chickens animals that could blend in naturally with them, such as ducks and geese, or ones that had a hard time tolerating each other, such as dogs and cats. We talked about how it was animals other than humans that usually made us smile, but we couldn’t be sure what the reason was exactly.
I fell asleep for a little while after she left late that night, and I had a dream, a dream with chickens in it.
In the dream, which was somewhat impressive, my friend and I opened the door in a house we had entered somehow, and walked into a room to find a vast desert stretching out before us. There was majesty to the desert that stretched out endlessly, even though the desert was in a little room.
In a moment, however, a gigantic sandstorm began to rage in the tranquil desert. Struggling through the sandstorm for a while, I thought that the storm, which was slowing down our steps, was somehow losing its force, after which the storm subsided, and at last, the tranquil desert reappeared. Spread out before us was a majestic and marvelous view of the desert, created by the simplest, and in a way, the smallest unit of particles called sand. The view, made more impressive by the most extreme contrast between light and shadow created due to the location of the sun, evoked ancient times, as well as the end of the world. The tranquil desert looked like a scene in a photograph in a way, and processing its lines and surfaces in a certain way, I could fold the desert in half like a photograph and put it in my pocket. In this way, I put several deserts in my pocket. And I realized that the sky there, too, had been painted on. The sky was blue paint painted on a broad canvas that went on infinitely, and the sun was red paint painted at the center of the blue. The sky, however, was too big to fold into a few layers.
After proceeding for some time, we came across a small oasis, and Arabian music came floating from somewhere. A record was playing on the turntable of an old phonograph under a palm tree, and that was where the song was coming from. I thought that Arabian music was pleasant to listen to anytime, but that it was perfect for listening to in the middle of a desert. Anyway, there was something standing languidly in the languid scene—it was a rooster with a vivid red comb, standing with one foot raised and gently folded, and looking quite brawny. It looked like a figure created by the languid Arabian music through a spell, and it seemed that anything could be created by such Arabian music as if by magic. I thought that the rooster would step up onto the record that was playing any minute for some reason, but for some reason, it didn’t.
We stared at the rooster without moving as if bewitched by something, because the rooster stared fixedly at us as if to bewitch us. I felt as if I would fall into a strange hypnosis just by staring fixedly at the rooster, and in fact, I did almost fall into a state of hypnosis once, after staring too intently at a chicken. At any rate, you could fall into hypnosis by staring intently at anything long enough, and that could be the principle behind hypnosis.
In the shadow of the oasis in the middle of the desert where the sun was beating down mercilessly, the rooster stood looking like a riddle, in a somewhat brazen attitude like a sphinx. And it seemed that the rooster, looking like a riddle, would pose a curious riddle for us, but it didn’t say anything. It seemed that if the rooster opened its mouth, it would make a sound that would sound quite strange, either for the sound of a chicken or that of anything else, but it didn’t open its mouth and make a sound, and neither did it make a sound with its mouth closed. It seemed to me that under the circumstances—I couldn’t guess what kind of circumstances they were—it was trying to show that it would be better for it to stay with its mouth closed. The rooster thus stood still, bewitching those who were looking at it, and as if bewitched itself, and it looked quite enchanting, absorbed in itself.
At the same time, we were reminded of a rooster that belonged to a musician in Marrakesh, an old city in Morocco, North Africa, that had been on a TV show we happened to watch together some time ago, and talked about it.
The rooster let out a long cry from time to time, as though in accompaniment, as it stood precariously and continued to rock to and fro on the head of the guitar on its master’s shoulder, which it had been trained to do. The rooster, however, wasn’t very bright and cried when it wanted to, not when it was supposed to, so its master had to force it to cry from time to time by rapping it lightly on the head, but at times, it wouldn’t cry no matter what. People liked watching the master playing the guitar and the rooster crying out or not crying out in time, and gave the master a bit of money. I couldn’t tell how the chicken felt as it stood precariously on the guitar, singing as it continued to rock—it seemed very nervous—but the master looked very happy to put on little performances with his rooster.
In any case, my friend, probably reminded all of a sudden by the rooster next to the oasis, said that she was going to go see the musician’s rooster in Marrakesh, as if Marrakesh were a place she could reach just by climbing over a hill or something. I thought it would be nice to go to Marrakesh to see the rooster and its master sing together in the square. Marrakesh was far away, but it seemed that seeing them would be reason enough to go there.
I saw her walk towards the sand dune that was before us, then climb over the dune. The dune was very big, and her body looked very small in comparison. Somehow, it really seemed that Marrakesh, Morocco would be on the other side of the dune, and that there would be a rooster singing on a guitar on the square there. With her back towards me, she waved at me, and I waved back at her. At last, she climbed over the dune, and could no longer be seen. I smiled, picturing her invisible lips smiling. I was sad that we had parted because of a rooster, but soothed my sadness by thinking something else about the rooster. When I turned my eyes back to where the rooster had been, however, the rooster of the oasis had disappeared. It seemed as if it had vanished along with the incantatory, lethargic Arabian music that had come to a stop in the meantime.
And after I had that dream, I was somewhat surprised and pleased at the same time that the more I thought about chickens, the more there was to think about chicken. It was very pleasant to have continuing thoughts about something, especially about chickens. And they had to be thoughts by thoughts, and for thoughts.
One of the things I liked to do as a child was to sit blankly on the floor watching the chickens roaming the yard. I never got tired of watching chickens. They didn’t seem that interesting at first glance, but the longer I watched them, the more interesting they grew. And one of my favorite moments was when I was lying in my room at midday in the hot summer, and watching through the open door the chickens quietly roaming in the yard, or a rooster suddenly attacking a hen for some reason, getting up on its back and pecking it on the head. The chickens would peck at the feed or sit still, doing their thing, but then suddenly chase other chickens away ruthlessly, as though they couldn’t stand the fact that other chickens were there, or that the other chickens were their associates. Anyway, chickens being the only things in the yard that moved around, I would always grow drowsy after watching them for a while. The chickens, seemingly dazed from the midday heat, got me, who couldn’t take my eyes off them, dazed as well.
Sometimes, I would watch the chickens that were walking around the yard while giving myself up to the drowsiness, and hear my mother and father talk loudly to each other somewhere unseen, and what they said sounded bizarre at times. Once, I heard my mother talk about a squirrel and sand and a letter, and my father talk about a barber shop and a post office and a butcher shop, and their words got mixed up from time to time and sounded something like, I’d like a squirrel to get a haircut at the barber shop and buy some cow intestines with sand in them at the post office and take them to the butcher shop (I think I’m always drawn to my childhood memories because of such strange yet fascinating scenes that could be pictured only during my childhood). At such times, I would think of the mailman who rarely came to our house, and fall asleep, thinking that I didn’t need any news that would make me happy, but that it would be nice if he brought me an orphaned squirrel every time he came—he had an old pouch that looked as if it would carry anything and everything, including several orphaned squirrels—and thinking that I—I was ready to set out with a squirrel—should tell him that the next time I saw him, but I never made such a request.
I also wondered, after falling into a doze and waking up from a dream, what chickens dreamt about. If they dreamt at all, they must dream about the people they lived with. They would surely not dream about whales or tigers or turtles, which they had never seen. But it was possible that they often dreamt about cats that often tormented them. Dreams about cats could be nightmares for the chickens, and after having such dreams, the chickens could lament the reality in which they couldn’t live in a world without cats, or at least in a world that was separate from the one in which cats lived, even though they wanted to, and peck at other chickens with their beaks for no good reason.
Afterwards, I remembered how even when my grandmother died, I had just stared at the chickens in the yard amid the sound of people crying. The chickens, quietly roaming the yard, helped me feel the sorrow I should feel, and at the same time, endure the sorrow. My grandmother had once bought me a bicycle with the money she had gotten from selling the chickens she had raised.
Being awake, I stayed in bed, but I didn’t have an easy time falling back asleep. Somehow, I felt that I’d be able to fall asleep if I heard the sound of a chicken crow in that moment, but no such sound came. I let out a very quiet yelp that sounded as if it could make even a flower flinch, if there had been a flower by my side, but then stopped.
I had some beer again after tossing and turning for quite some time, but it was no use. Another sleepless night had arrived. At moments like that, even a tangled string on the floor could look quite tragic, but I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel either good or bad. I felt indifferent. If I left the earth and went to someplace like Saturn, it seemed, maybe I would feel a little different. I couldn’t really tell what I was thinking, either. It was as if I were fumbling with a braille book I couldn’t read with the tip of a finger. Nevertheless, it seemed that my thoughts vaguely touched upon something.
I took out about five sleeping pills, put them on a plate, and took them one by one with some beer. The pills, in different colors—white, yellow, and pink—had similar effects. From time to time when I couldn’t sleep, I put some sleeping pills on a plate and slowly took them with some beer, as though they were snacks on the side.
Once, I took a few sleeping pills so that I could get some sleep, but I didn’t fall asleep, so I kept taking them to see what changes would come over my body and mind depending on the amount of sleeping pills I took, and found it interesting to feel myself gradually slipping out of consciousness, and ended up taking nearly fifty pills. What I had taken, however, was only half the lethal dose. In any case, I hadn’t taken the sleeping pills to take my last sleep.
After taking about ten sleeping pills with beer, I felt a little fuddled, though I couldn’t tell whether it was because of the beer or the pills, and the blanket, crumbled up on the bed, began to resemble the Tien Shan Mountains or the Kunlun Mountains, and it seemed that in the darkness beyond them under the bed, there would be a desert like the Taklamakan Desert, and that fish and birds would be flying or swimming together in a place that could either be a lake in the desert or the sky, and that a fisherman at a lake there would fish out with a fishing net a horse that was white all over. I pictured flamingoes flying under the bed, and it seemed that where I was lying down could be anywhere in the world. I could be lying down on the grass on a grassy plain, or a rock in the woods, or in the middle of the desert. I thought of some names of deserts, such as Taklamakan, Gobi, Namib, Sahara, Mojave, Kalahari, and Negev, and the names seemed to quietly call me to someplace very far away.
I was floundering in a semiconscious state. I thought that if I were lying on the grass, it was only natural for me to picture a snake crawling on the grass where I was lying, and that there should be a pillow or a die or a kettle, as well as countless shards of a shattered mirror. They may not be necessary for the snake, but at any rate, the snake, too, would prefer that countless pieces of a shattered mirror, quietly reflecting the sunlight, be with a pillow or a die or a kettle on the grass, than something that made a sound that could startle it, which was poisonous. And it would be nice as well if on the grass there was a little ball, such as a baseball, that had nothing to do with the snake and had come flying from somewhere. The snake could pass through the grass at leisure or coil itself up or shed its skin, giving no heed to the things that had nothing to do with it. And if I were lying in the woods, I could think about how one of the greatest things about the woods is that you can lose your way there, and that the woods always held open the possibility of you losing your way there, and that a wrong path could turn out to be a wonderful path. And I thought that if I were lying in a desert, it would be nice if there were countless camel’s feet, cut around the ankles, stuck upside down around me. I once heard that’s the way Mongolian nomads held funerals when their camels died.
Suddenly, I thought of the chair in the mirror that had appeared in a dream I had. There was a chair reflected on a mirror, and I tried to sit on the chair in front of the mirror, but there was no chair I could sit on. The chair existed only in the mirror. Curiously, the grassy plain and the woods and the desert that had come to my mind also seemed to be something without substance, like the chair in the mirror.
I went on taking the sleeping pills one by one, as if I were savoring their taste, and I grew more and more fuddled, and my mind was dizzy with thoughts about the play of thoughts. Something inside me seemed to move, but I didn’t. I felt a feeling of sadness for a very brief moment, but after letting go of the feeling as though letting go of a fish I’d caught with my hands, I didn’t feel much of anything. Nevertheless, it seemed that if I moved at all, something long and thin inside me, perhaps something that took up a great part of me, would come flowing out like strands of noodles. The more it seemed that something inside me was being stirred up, the more still I remained. And after some thought, I told myself that now wasn’t the time to meet a ghost or to lie still in bed, becoming a ghost myself or wearing a coat that made me resemble a ghost. Then it seemed that everything grew quiet.
I thought of the names of the tranquilizers I’d taken, such as Stilnox, Xanax, Ativan, and Halcyon, and the names felt as awful as their effects or side effects. It seemed that names of deserts, such as Taklamakan, Gobi, Namib, Sahara, Mojave, Kalahari, and Negev, would be much more appropriate as names of sleeping pills or sleep inducers. It would be fabulous to fall asleep after taking sleeping pills named Taklamakan, Gobi, Namib, Sahara, Mojave, Kalahari, and Negev. Even when I tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep even after taking the pills, I would be able to imagine that I was wandering around deserts with such names. And the thought would make my sleeplessness a little less painful.
Anyway, as I sat still leaning against the bed, opening and closing my eyes repeatedly, unfamiliar scenes slowly unfolded before me. They had to do with dreams, and reveries in the form of dreams, and a perspective outside reality, through which reality was perceived in a strange way. Various scenes were spread out before me, and there appeared rooms in which languages roamed about capriciously, and thoughts rushed in and out like waves, and I passed slowly through the rooms, which were full of picturesque scenes like scenes in an engraving made up of only blue and white.
When I went into a room that looked like the living room of someone’s house, a scene of nature unfolded. There was a huge river in the middle of the vast scenery. Suddenly I recalled a childhood memory. Whenever I saw a river, I used to picture a frozen lake, or more often, myself skating endlessly as it grew dark on a frozen lake that stretched out as far as the eye could see. It seemed that in the cold water beneath the thick ice, there would be fish, nearly made up of ice, at rest as though frozen. Curiously, I pictured a frozen lake whenever I saw a lake, perhaps because I imagined that at the end of it, there was a world you could reach only by endlessly skating away on the frozen river.
It wasn’t winter, however, and the river wasn’t frozen. The river was flowing slowly, and on the slowly flowing river there was something that was drifting down just as slowly. It was a large tree, pulled up by the roots, and it seemed that it was drifting down in comfort. With my eyes fixed on the tree, I walked for a little while at the speed at which it was drifting down. I felt that I was walking side by side with a tree, and felt happy. I felt that way because it was the first time I felt that I was walking side by side with a tree since I once had had a dream about walking side by side with a little tree, holding its hand (the tree, of course, was reaching out its branch like a hand).
It seemed that you could make possible a series of impossible things just by chanting a spell in your mind or snapping your fingers lightly. It seemed, for instance, that it wouldn’t be such a big deal to run into squirrels sitting with their legs crossed, or having a serious discussion with their arms crossed, and that it would be nothing for a bird, sitting on a tree, to fly up into the sky, uprooting and taking the tree along with it.
I continued to pass by rooms in a house, and imagined traveling with a chicken the whole time. Considering that when people traveled in the past, countless animals such as horses and camels served as their companions, comforting them, and enriching the journey in a way that wouldn’t have been possible without them, imagining a journey with a chicken may not be anything remarkable.
I imagine that any minute, a chicken may appear and we may experience a brief moment together, or be on our way together. Perhaps I would come across a rooster standing on someone’s grave, looking like a sculpture in the form of a chicken, as if it has forgotten that it’s a chicken, or walk on the sandy beach with it. Then I could say to the chicken walking by my side, There’s an island beyond the clouds in the sky touching the sea, and you can see it from here when the weather is fine, but the weather isn’t very nice right now, so it’s all right if we can’t see the island. But somehow, I felt as if a chicken, which hadn’t revealed itself, were already guiding my way, and I pictured a chicken that was with me.
I kept on walking. I gradually came to understand the joy of walking, and realized that I only had to let my body understand the joy. No, I only had to let my body pass on the joy it already knew to my mind. I was headed to a realm of ideas, however, rather than a specific place, and I was feeling the joy of wandering in the midst of ideas with my body and mind.
And when a hill unfolded beneath my feet, I ran into a flock of sheep. One of the sheep came towards me, and I, too, went towards the sheep. We looked at each other for a moment, as if waiting for the other to say something first, and took part in a silent conversation for a moment. I realized once again through the conversation with the sheep, as well as my own monologue, that there’s an element of monologue in every conversation.
When I opened another door and entered, a forest opened up, and when I continued for a little while to follow the path leading into the forest, I saw a brook running, and heard the booming sound of water beyond the brook, and then in a moment, a waterfall appeared before me. Huge fish were swimming against the strong current in the quite large waterfall that bespoke a certain energy and spouted a strong current of water, and I watched the fish going up the waterfall with envy.
When I was little, too, I used to watch the fish in the river for long stretches of time, with envy and admiration, and it seemed that in those moments, I could live with a sad face at all times, if for the fish that looked sad for some reason, that lived in a place where I couldn’t live—once, when I was little, I became curious as to how long the fish that lived in a world that was different from mine could stay out of water, and wanting to find out, I caught a fish and placed it outside the water, and to make it fair, I myself went into the water and stayed there without breathing, and I think we came out even.
And once, I became fixated on the question of why fish smelled so fishy, and continued to think about it by myself. Was it to protect themselves through the smell? There must be predators that are repelled by the smell. But the predators, also fish, would probably not keep themselves from eating other fish because of their smell, even if they’re repelled by it. Plus, the predators themselves could smell fishy. Anyway, I wonder how fish feel about each other’s smell. Are they drawn to it, or repelled by it? I think they’re probably drawn to it, since it’s hard to imagine so many fish living in water being repelled by each other’s smell. And maybe it’s impossible to detect the smell in the water.
Anyhow, such thoughts were appropriate for thinking while looking at fish, and perhaps they were one of the first serious inquiries I had about something in nature.
Most of the fish failed to go all the way up the waterfall in one attempt. They all succeeded, however, after some failure and practice. But it seemed that even though they didn’t require that much practice—perhaps they had trained themselves sufficiently while swimming towards the waterfall, that going up such a waterfall had become no big deal—they enjoyed going up the waterfall for the sake of it, and that’s why they jumped up to the top of the waterfall, falling back down, repeating the act several times, then heading upstream. It seemed that the fish loved jumping up over the strong current, then falling back down.
I could see why. And when I saw the fish going up the waterfall, looking so splendid, it seemed that there was nothing in the world as splendid as going up a waterfall. It wasn’t something that just anyone could do. Only some fish, that had the amazing capacity to go up waterfalls, could enjoy such blessing.
And somehow it seemed that the waterfall would be much less interesting if it weren’t for the fish that went up the waterfall. The fish, it seemed, made the waterfall even more wonderful, and even more vibrant. And as I quietly watched the fish going up the waterfall, I was even deluded into thinking that it was the fish that were making the water fall. It seemed that the phenomenon occurred under the same principle in which caged squirrels spin their wheels. I said that to the invisible chicken next to me, which agreed.
Anyhow, I saw something circling around in the whirlpool created by the waterfall where the water fell vertically, and upon closer look, I found that it was an unpeeled onion. The onion continued to sink and rise, trapped in the whirlpool and unable to drift down any further as if someone had thrown it there for an experiment, and now, as I quietly watched the onion, I felt as if the onion were making the fish jump up the waterfall. The strong current of falling water and the violently jumping fish and the thrashing onion seemed to be moving through a physical, organic force, which created an optical illusion effect.
I took a small path next to the waterfall and went up towards the upper part of the waterfall. There were many fish there that had already come up the waterfall, swimming towards their destination upstream. I walked for a little while along the brook, moving together with the fish that were swimming towards their destination.
As I went upwards, there appeared other waterfalls of various sizes and shapes. I gave each waterfall a fitting name, and it seemed that waterfalls would continue to appear as long as I kept giving them names. At the same time, it seemed that I would be able to turn each waterfall into a shape I wanted. I could, for instance, make a waterfall that looked like a comet with a long tail. And it seemed that the waterfalls, while they were actual waterfalls, were at the same time waterfalls in my ideas.
When I opened another door and entered, I saw enormous trees I’d never seen before, standing in a strange posture like a person with distorted limbs, with a huge knot that looked like an eye of a giant on each stem. The trees looked like lunatics, and it seemed that they would suddenly go berserk, or at least block my way. I walked among the trees, quite nervous that I may have to take part in a strange fight against the insane trees. The trees, however, stood still, looking ominous rather than flaunting a splendor fit for their great size. Nevertheless, it seemed that the trees were twisting their limbs almost imperceptibly as I passed through among them.
Incidentally, there was something on the branches. At first I thought they were birds, a kind I’d never seen before. But sitting on the branches were children, all naked. The children didn’t turn their heads away or anything, even when they saw me. No, it seemed that they didn’t see me. Their eyes were all closed, and they were gently rocking, looking as if they were dreaming. I felt an urge to wake one of them, but stopped myself. Above all, I felt that the children shouldn’t be disturbed, whatever they were doing.
Children should be tying up a bird they caught onto a tree branch, or spinning a top, or rolling down a hill, or running across a field against the wind with their mouths and arms wide open, at the speed of a bird soaring high up into the sky and in like manner, or lying down in a barley field in the manner of barley stalks bending in the wind, or knocking down an ant tunnel and raising up another ant tunnel in a similar shape, but they’re not, what’s wrong with them, I muttered.
I could see, however, why the children were in such a state. I recalled a memory from my childhood about throwing live rats, which I’d caught with other kids, into the river. I couldn’t remember, though, why I’d done such a thing at the time, or whether the rats had swum safely out of the river in the end, or drowned. We were playing a game of catching rats and throwing them into the river, which was a suitable game for children to play. The children on the trees were clearly playing a game of their own. And it seemed that I, too, was engrossed in a game of my own.
It seemed that the children would wake up suddenly and ask strange questions, and that if they did, I would be able to give them answers that sounded strange in my own ears. Or it seemed that they would wake up slowly and turn into chickens or some other birds. But they grew faint, as shadows do, and in the end they vanished completely.
It seemed that at that moment, there came from somewhere a sound like the sound of a chicken crowing, which had awakened me the day before at dawn, and which I’d listened to for a while even after I woke up. I began to walk towards the direction from which the sound came. Somehow, it seemed that I was returning to the oasis in the desert where there had been a chicken that appeared, then disappeared amid the sound of Arabian music. But I found myself marching in place. I felt my eyelids droop under the weight of sleep, and felt my body grow fainter and fainter, thinking I was learning how to travel together with a chicken.
Jung Young Moon graduated from Seoul National University with a degree in psychology. He made his literary debut in 1996 with the novel A Man Who Barely Exists. Among his works, Vaseline Buddha, A Most Ambiguous Sunday and Other Stories, A Chain of Dark Tales, and A Contrived World have appeared in English. He has won the Dongsuh Literary Award, the HMS (Hahn Moo-Sook) Literary Award, the Dongin Literary Award, and the Daesan Literary Award. He has participated in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2005. Jung is also an accomplished translator who has translated more than fifty books from English into Korean, including works by John Fowles, Raymond Carver, and Germaine Greer.