[Web Exclusive] "On Broadway" from Delights of life

  • onApril 8, 2017
  • Vol.35 Spring 2017
  • byHwang Tong-gyu
Delights of life

On Broadway


One day at 9 a.m. in August 2009
a few raindrops blew outside my window but then the weather cleared up.
I come out of the Raddison Hotel on 32nd and Broadway.
There is no time blocking my path or following my trail.
After leaving the subway my eyes, as if washing tea cups,
lightly run across the buildings of NYU on 4th
where 22 years ago I spent a hard year doing nothing important.
Then I begin walking down Broadway.

The old memories rise and fall strenuously in my mind,
fluttering like a faded flyer at the bottom of my memory.
The midday mugging happened near 42nd.
Now I have quite an amount of cash in my pocket
but my face looks calm since my mind is light.
As before, I stop at the “Shakespeare and Company” bookstore near NYU;
leave carrying a couple of newly-published chapbooks
then stealthily enter the Grace Anglican church
that sits modestly among the bigger buildings.
The church with the simple exterior also has a simple interior.
I come out after listening to the choir practice a single hymn.

I go to the literature section of the famous “Strand,”
which I heard is the largest in the world;
if all lined up, the book spines would span over 17 miles.
As before, I walk along opening covers.
The distant, swaying horizon makes me thirsty
but I keep walking under dark cliffs
exhaling the musk of books.
I purchase the 1978 edition of Bronowski’s thin, aged book
at a cost slightly higher than wholesale.

When I leave the bookstore the world is bright.
Two blocks down, at the corner of Union Square
I look around holding rainbow ice cream I bought
and then sit on a bench behind half-naked female sunbathers.
White black brown red, not exactly this color nor that,
the colors of summer life in the middle of the city!

In the past, folding the pulsing sounds of internal combustion in my heart,
I walked flashing the high beams of my eyes.
I’ve changed. I walk like a tree absorbed in thought
or had just been uprooted from thinking.
A t-shirt of a winged devil approaches me
and brushes past, morphs into a butterfly with wings wide open.
This might be my last chance to freely walk down Broadway
how pitiful that I have no engraving to cherish in my reminiscing!
At least I can enjoy feeling pathetic.
Everything has an inherent final destination;
let me out anywhere you please.
Stop me while walking in front of a sad little flower stand
like the aria, “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” heard in an unexpected place.
Tulips by the window look so charming and full
I feel like flying into them, flapping my wings and tucking my legs.
If I were allowed to enter them,
I would become a honbull1
that would dissolve after hovering a while above the flowers.

I go up the street and pass 32nd.
Broadway meets 6th Avenue, then separates without glancing back.
Singers perform their hearts out on a jumbotron
someone Asian stops to listen.
In the future, something in this street
will also make people stop walking.
I’ve heard each age has a distinct look;
suddenly I begin to yearn for a future without me.
if I stop the strides of the future would I stop the strides of now?
If not, what else would happen?

At a bright crosswalk
a boy runs against the red.
The mother stops just before chasing after him and shakes her fists
as the last half of a truck whooshes past. If she had lunged ahead,
could I have stopped her, a woman even larger than me?
It’s somehow a familiar face, half angry and half smiling.
Ah, the face, half angry and half smiling, this is . . . from life.
The traffic light turns green. 




Translated by YoungShil Ji and Daniel Todd Parker

1 Honbull, in the dialect of South Korea’s Jeolla province, means a blue radiance that emanates from the soul. The literal meaning is “soul light.”

Author's Profile

Hwang Tong-gyu is a professor emeritus at Seoul National University and chairperson of the literature department at the National Academy of Arts. He was a visiting professor at UC Berkeley and NYU, and participated in the University of Iowa's International Writing Program. He has received the Lee San Literature Prize, Daesan Literary Award, Midang Literary Award, and Eungwan Order of Cultural Merit. His books of poems have been translated into English, German, French, and Spanish.