Memories of Giving Birth to a Daughter-in p’ansori narrative

  • onAugust 3, 2016
  • Vol.32 Summer 2016
  • byKim Hyesoon


I open a mirror and enter,
mother is inside a mirror, sitting.
I open a mirror and enter again,
grandmother is inside a mirror, sitting.
I push aside this grandmother mirror and step over a doorsill,
great grandmother is inside a mirror, laughing.
I place my head inside great grandmother’s laughing lips,
great-great grandmother, younger than me
turns around inside a mirror, sitting.
I open this mirror and enter,
enter, and
enter again.
All the ancestral mothers are sitting
inside a darkening mirror,
and these mothers mutter and call in my direction,
“Mommy, Mommy.”
Their mouths pucker, crying for milk,
but my breasts have no milk, and someone
keeps pumping wind into
my intestines.
My stomach grows bigger than a balloon,
blows here and there above the sea.
It is so wide, wide inside the mirror
that I can’t even catch one blade of straw,
and sometimes lightning passes through my body.
Every time I dive into the sea
a row of mothers’ shoes dissolve
on the sea’s bottom.
A bolt of lightning!
Power’s off! A blackout!
Suddenly, all the mirrors shatter in front of me,
and one mother is vomited out.
People in white, wearing gloves
collect the bits of mirror and hold up a small mother
smeared in blood with eyes still shut—
mother of all my mothers—
and say, “It’s a ten-fingered princess!”


Translated by Don Mee Choi

Author's Profile

Kim Hyesoon(b. 1955) is one of the most prominent and influential contemporary poets of South Korea. She was the first woman poet to receive the prestigious Kim Su-yong and Midang Awards, and her works have been translated into English, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish. Her translated English works include: When the Plug Gets Unplugged (Tinfish, 2005), Anxiety of Words (Zephyr, 2006), Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers (Action Books, 2008), All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (Action Books, 2011), Princess Abandoned (Tinfish, 2012), Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (Action Books, 2014), I’m OK, I’m Pig! (Bloodaxe Books, 2014), Trilingual Rensi (Vagabond Press, 2015), Poor Love Machine (Action Books, 2016), Autobiography of Death (New Directions, 2018), and A Drink of Red Mirror (Action Books, 2019). Kim lives in Seoul and teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Kim, along with her long-time translator, Don Mee Choi, recently received the International Griffin Poetry Prize, Canada’s most prestigious poetry award, for Autobiography of Death (New Directions, 2019).