Winter, 5 Minutes Past Midnight

  • onOctober 21, 2015
  • Vol.29 Autumn 2015
  • byHwang Tong-gyu
Songs of Thorns and Flowers Vol. 3: Winter, 5 Minutes Past Midnight
Tr. Chan E. Park


I walked gazing up at the stars.
Exiting the shuttle bus at the back entrance of the apartment complex,
I was about to cross the road, but decided to keep walking.
As if to hide the chill in, the stores lowered their shutters.
The snow that briefly fell late into the evening
is still flying a white fragment or two in the wind.
‘The dust must’ve settled for a bit.’
How long has it been? Adjusting my coat collar
to compose my thoughts somewhat,
gazing up at the stars, I walked another bus stop to the end of the line.
On one side of the miniature triangle-shaped shuttle bus turnaround,
a hardware store, which until recently ornamented its windows
with a baroque of scissors, was demolished,
to reopen as a farm produce center: “Let’s Go To The Field.”
The light in the building is out, and the outside lamp reads the sign.
Across the way, ‘The Silla Bakery’ is closing.
At the corner of the remaining side,
a woman steals glances at her cell phone,
as if awaiting her daughter or husband on the last shuttle,
tall and slightly bent from the waist,
she’s mumbling something barely audible.
Standing next to her as if we’ve been acquainted,
I look up at the sky, rubbing my two hands.
In the sky where a light frost stopped falling, that’s the Big Dipper,
and that—Cassiopeia, and ah, Orion,
all of you have survived without being ripped apart as lonely stars!
The woman speaks hardly audibly but determinedly,
‘Now I’ll just up and die.’
The street lamp stealthily illuminates her pale face,
no murderous look on it, I’m somewhat relieved.
I echo her, to myself, ‘Come on then, see what I do!’
A star, brightening, asks.
‘What are you all waiting for? One who may not come?
A world with no darkness? A world where the dust has settled?
The life of a comet that freezes and melts its dusty body, spewing light into the dark,
should also be worthwhile.’
Did I hear anyone clear his throat?
If no one were around, I'd have stated loud and clear:
‘You Do Not speak of darkness or light, when you’re around someone waiting desperately for something!’
The stars, as if seen through scuba goggles, glimmered then were still.
The last bus will arrive soon.

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.