Walking Through Fire: I Must Be the Wind by Moon Chung-hee

  • onFebruary 16, 2015
  • Vol.26 Winter 2014
  • byKim Koga
I Must Be the Wind
Tr. Clare You and Richard Silberg

The home of one’s memory will never exist again in any time or space, therefore I think of home as loss and loneliness. “My first home, Mother’s womb / has become earth in Ilsan Park cemetery /… / my high school Jinmyung by the Blue House is now a government office, / the Sangdo village house of my college a grand hotel…” (“Where is My Home?”). Home, a nonexistent notion that frays the edges of life. Its nonexistence creates an inexplicable undercurrent of loneliness and loss that runs throughout all lives. When one realizes that they can never return home again there is a moment of utter loss and loneliness. This moment is where Moon’s poetry exists.

This loss and loneliness spreads like an infection so that you cannot pinpoint the source but only know that it’s pervasive and unrelenting: loss of identity as a woman, as a person, as a poet. Such loss creates an impossible and inescapable loneliness.

Moon’s wifely responsibilities leave her lonely and absorb her identity. In “I Wish I Had a Wife” Moon writes, “I wish I had a wife. /… / A wife who cooks with what I’ve earned, / cleans my home and waits for me / while I work and drink in the wide world. / A wife who will bring some tea quietly / while I write poems or read papers on the sofa.” She dreams of being husband to someone else’s wife and to have the space to inhabit her own identity, but no, she will always be a wife. Similarly in “Airport Letter” she writes, “Honey, please don’t look for me for a year. / I’m taking a sabbatical after years of marriage. /… / Even grim scholars / take a sabbatical to recharge themselves. /… / I’ll be back when I’ve found myself.” She has dedicated years to her husband and neglected her other identities, now she must find herself again.

Out of this search Moon continually returns to images of fire and rebirth, strength and movement. The nacre of loneliness is filled with thin layers of sex, love, and body—all of these layers of life move towards a tumultuous, unsettled, undefined center. The heart is torn flesh, but not the center. The longing for home tears the fabric of brain cells, but it too is not the center, nor is the womb the center of this being. The storm is at the center, continually morphing into a different being with time: “today I scorch my body / in the flame.” (“Memories”). The center is the fire, the phoenix that comes out with little blazing wingtips ready to spark the tindered house and the tindered heart, to awaken the tindered flesh.

To embolden, to create and show to the new day that inside this lonely shell—this woman, this poet, is reborn into a new being. She emerges out of fire but is not burned. Even as she drowns in mud her wings are alight: “the scent of mud is everywhere, / the sunlight swells in every feather tip.” (“Dying Alone”). She is alive. She is no longer flesh, but shamanistic and reborn until engulfed in flame or drowned in mud, only to resurface again as a different being. However, no matter how many times she is reborn, Moon will never be able to escape “this loneliness and sorrow that will last beyond my life” (“Legacy”).

Although Moon Chung-hee leaves me with a pervasive sense of sorrow and loneliness, I am also on fire, my glowing wingtips emerging triumphant from the mud. 


by Kim Koga
Freelance Writer and Editor

Author's Profile

Moon Chung-hee is a poet and Endowed Chair Professor at Dongguk University. She has won prestigious awards such as the Sowol Poetry Award, the Chong Chi-Yong Literature Prize, the Mogwol Literature Prize, and Sweden’s Cikada Prize. She has participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa. English editions of her books include WindflowerWoman on the Terrace, and I Must Be the Wind.