A Winter Night at 00:05 Hours

  • onNovember 10, 2014
  • Vol.4 Summer 2009
  • byHwang Tong-gyu
A Winter Night at 00:05 Hours


​I walked watching the stars.
I was about to cross after I got off the local bus
behind the apartment’s back entrance, but I just kept walking.
The stores’ shutters came down, as if trying to conceal their inner cold.
Still, one or two snowflakes blew in the wind
from the snow that had briefly fallen late that night.
The dust must have died down for now.
How long had it been? I adjusted my coat, collected myself,
and walked to the last stop watching the stars.

The last bus stop. Not so long ago, on one side
of the small triangle-shaped square,
an ironmonger’s with scissors and knives
hanging outside its window like baroque music, was demolished,
and a farmer’s market with the sign To the Field took its place.
The building lights go off and a streetlamp reads the sign.
On the opposite side, a Shilla Bakery closes its doors for the night.

Where the last side begins, a woman stares hollow-eyed
at her cell phone, as if waiting
for her daughter or husband on the last bus.
She is tall, her waist slightly bent,
and she is memorizing something in a just audible voice.
I stand by her as if I know her
while rubbing my hands together, and look up to the sky.
In the sky that seems to have frosted over, Ursa Major,
over there, Cassiopeia…and Orion.
None torn into separate stars, all still alive!

The woman in a just audible voice now says decisively,
“Now I’m going to kill myself.”
The streetlight just shines off her pale face.
There is no murderous trace staining it.
I feel somewhat at ease.
Silently, I also think, “Just let him or her come!” several times.

A star brightens, and asks,
“What are you waiting for? Someone who might not come?
A world without darkness? A world without dust?
The life of a comet radiating light
as its body of dust freezes and melts in the dark
is probably not a bad life.”
Who let out a dry cough?
If someone hadn’t been next to me,
I would have spoken up precisely to the star,
“I won’t speak about the dark or the light
next to those desperate in their waiting!”
Like the outside of a scuba diving mask,
the stars shimmer, then stop.
It’s time for the last bus to arrive.


* Translated by Krys Lee.

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.