Selected Poems by Kim Hyesoon

  • onSeptember 4, 2019
  • Vol.45 Autumn 2019
  • byKim Hyesoon
Autobiography of Death
Tr. Don Mee Choi


Lean on the Water


Lean your body on the water and cling to it

Can’t bear it any longer. I twist my body
holding on to the fingers of water and


wear a coat woven with water’s hair
I crouch and cover my face

Let’s be slant together
Let’s fall embracing each other

After I jump off
it’ll be your turn to jump

When I throw down the fishing line
please bite on the hook and bob up
I’ll do the same next time

Plead to

the water that talks to itself more than you do

It babbles on when it’s drunk
so I take the rain home

Water pours in through the window

You’re about to lean
on it
but the water
leans on you even more


Autobiography of Death (New Directions, 2018), p. 14






The Salt Dress Inside Me


When sorrow is endured, salt gets excreted from your body
Your salty-salty expression
Your animal gaze
like a lonely island hammered by the sea
Some days when there is a high-sea warning
seawater gushes in over the short eyelash fences
but the salt’s architecture doesn’t crumble
salt-flowers bloom from my fingertips like stinging sobs
Salt, turns my fallen shadow into powder and scatters it under the streetlamps
Salt, persists in me like the sea’s architecture
Salt, we embrace tightly and try
to capture the sea in each other
The salt pond is at work as soon as I’m awake
I listen to the rising sea architecture
I am wearing the salt dress
inside me
Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (Action Books, 2014), p. 20





Saturn’s Sleeping Pill


A place where my shadows visit when I close my eyes
There, I put on a belt made of smoke
When my soul buzzes like the mosquitoes at night
my shadows swarm like a pride of lions on the plains
A place where my ashes get up and dance after I’ve been burnt today
Saturn has 60 moons
therefore, I have 60 shadows
I have 120 eyes, of course
I don’t get to open all of my eyes
whether the sun rises or not
Therefore, how many bodies do I have?
How many more bodies can die?
The ground is soft-soft and my footsteps are limp-limp
The air is sticky-sticky and my heart heaves-heaves
A place where your ghost snatches my soul away like a spider web
I pray for my own soul
I sit on my dead bodies
and put to sleep a few remaining live bodies
Longings are asleep doubts are asleep
even the throats that have not yet opened are asleep all asleep
What do you want to be when you die?
I’m going to be something that has no borders
A place where the moons rise continuously continuously
A place where teeth poke-poke out
even if you press them down with a thick blanket
A place where the dark sooty lions perch on the faint horizon
their eyelids keep keep falling on the glowing rays from their eyes
When you part with the shadows there
you also part with the weight of my body here

Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (Action Books, 2014), p. 27






When I pronounce “bird”
only the wind remains in me
as if water, fire, earth all vanish
Maybe the name “bird”is the illness of the name “bird”
The bird makes the sound of blowing wind from my dripstone-like bones
We received an order to kill all the birds that couldn’t fly
Since there was no time to kill, we received an order to put them in a sack
and bury them alive in a pit
A few days after I got married I placed a chick on a cutting board
and was about to strike the plucked bird with a knife
It felt as if l were holding the legs of a just-born infant
the chick covered in goose bumps was trembling
I wanted to wrap the bird in a baby’s quilt and hold it in my arms
That thing that snoozes with its head pillowed on its chest
Have we really reached the end?
The nightmare’s curtain rips and Death is born inside
Like a wall of wind my heart trembles to the rhythm
In my village now there are no such things with wings on them
They have all been put in the ground, powdered with disinfectant
My aunt was caught by Mr. Gas Mask
when she tried to wrap her goose in a baby blanket onto her back
The fact that I’m writing a bird poem means
that I’m ill with the bird
A bird perched on my collarbone
pecks me
They say when you die you go with the wind
but now I go with the wind of the bird
As if all the kite strings of my country have tangled and piled up high in the sky
the white-feathered mountain flutters in the wind
and inside it 3-month old, 6-month old tiny eyes
heaped in layers
a few hours before they are shoved into the pit
they tremble with their eyes opened

Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (Action Books, 2014), p. 35–36





Red Scissors Woman


That woman who walks out of the gynecology clinic
Next to her is an old woman holding a newborn
That woman’s legs are like scissors
She walks swiftswift cutting the snow path
But the swollen scissor blades are like fat dark clouds
What did she cut screaming with her raised blades
Blood scented dusk flooding out from between her legs
The sky keeps tearing the morning after the snowstorm
A blinding flash of light
follows the waddlewaddling woman
Heaven’s lid glimmers and opens then closes
How scared God must have been
when the woman who ate all the fruit of the tree he’d planted
was cutting-out each red body from
between her legs
The sky, the wound that opens every morning
when a red head is cut out
between the fat red legs of the cloud
(Does that blood live inside me?)
(Do I live inside that blood?)
That woman who walks ahead
That woman who walks and rips
with her scorching body her cold shadow
New-born infants swim
inside that woman’s mirror inside her as white as a snow room
the stickysticky slow breaking waves of blood
like the morning sea filled with fish
All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (Action Books, 2011), p. 8

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).