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POETRY

Chewing Gum: Six poems

  • onJanuary 5, 2017
  • Vol.34 Winter 2016
  • byKim Ki-taek
Chewing Gum
2009
126pp.

My Eyes Met His
 

My eyes met his for a moment.
His face was familiar,
But I couldn’t remember who he was.
Bewildered by the odd familiarity of unfamiliarity
I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
He, too, seemed to ponder who I was.
He was rummaging through a garbage bag.
He was inside the skin of a cat.
As if he were used to standing upright,
To walk with four feet appeared awkward.
As if complaining to me, who had disturbed his ransacking,
Meow, he let out with feeling.
But unexpectedly the strange sound like a baby crying
Seemed unbearable even for his own ears,
And he immediately shut his mouth.
He didn’t run away like other cats.
As if angry over his own sad figure being caught,
He lowered his head, turning slowly, back arched,
And moved off into the distance for a long time.
 

 

Samgyeopsal*
 

On my way home after a drinking party
For over an hour
The smell of the meat has been lingering on my body.
My pores, my wrinkles, my fingerprints
Are full of the blood cooked by fire, the flesh turned into smoke.
The savory fragrance I tasted hastily, being hungry
Has gone away;
Onl y the strong stench of meat right before slaughter has survived,
Blocking up my nostrils like cotton balls.
With a smell of meat like the halo of a saint
I get off the subway.
In the spot where I was standing on the subway
A mould in the shape of my body covered with the smell of meat
Is still holding onto the train strap, looking out the window
At me, who is leaving up the station steps.
When I arrive at ground level,
A refreshing breeze sends away the smell of meat.
While I take in the cool air deeply,
The smell of meat briefly flies up like a swarm of flies
And attaches its sticky feet to my body.
It keeps holding onto my hands, which sizzled its body at the table,
And my teeth, which gnashed its body.
The blood-rank smell which still holds a scream and its death throes
Keeps permeating my body
In which a carcass is buried.


* Korean–style grilled pork belly
 

 

Killing a Cat
 

An object, black like a shadow, without the sound of walking
Dashed abruptly into the street.
I stepped on the brakes,
But the speed forged on ahead.
My car didn’t rattle in the slightest, even less than if going over a tiny stone,
But something soft seemed to permeate the tires.
I promptly looked in the side mirror, and found something that looked like a comforter
Dropped in the middle of the street.
What ate up all the wild animals from long ago
Was neither the teeth nor claws of tigers or lions,
But tires, soft as gum, which the little cat had no idea about.
The buffer of car tires, comfortable to drive in
Swallowed something mushy; crushed it, without a sign.
The texture of tender meat like the beef ribs of a well-known steakhouse,
So tender that it would melt in anybody’s mouth without even chewing
Rushed instantaneously into my body through the tires.
Death that had been softly squashed pierced my body
Then licked it from corner to corner
Appreciating my chewy texture for a long time.
Smacking the blood-soaked, engraved pattern with their lips,
The tires sped up, as if to satisfy the rest of their appetite.

 

 

 

At an Orphanage
 

As I approach with smiles
The child opens his arms towards a stranger, me.
 
As soon as he opens his arms, a void appears between us;
A void waiting to be quickly filled.
 
As soon as he is embraced, as soon as we lock bodies
The child is attracted to me like a magnet, inseparable.
 
Behind this child are an endless number of other children.
Each blank eye stares at me from beyond the void.

 

 

 

Sad Face
 

Finally, sadness took up his whole face.
Sadness which fills up at the speed of a mustache growing
Blanketed his face before he even knew it;
Spread through every corner of his body like a blood vessel and nerve network.
Though he was laughing, sadness didn’t care.
Though he was eating, drinking, and chatting, sadness didn’t care.
Meanwhile, the time to lump all spittled pronunciations into weeping
Approached limpingly as if splay-footed.
Though he could hurl a little fake laughter in passing,
Sadness let him laugh more boldly.
Though he could ram his fist-like cry deeply into his chattering mouth,
He w as silently listening to the talking sound with its saliva pleasantly spattering.
Whenever veins stood out on his neck and forehead from laughing and chatting
The paths that sadness passed through became more visibly blushed.
Whenever laughter overtook him, his face distorted into folds,
And the high notes would finally trill into the saddest sounds.
Afraid that his sadness might one day be noticed,
He t old lame jokes that people nevertheless clutched their bellies at.
Everyone was anxious that the laughing and chatter would suddenly stop.

 

 

 

Chewing Gum

 

Gum that someone has chewed and spat out.
Gum with clearly visible teeth marks.
Gum molded into a small, round ball
After being crumpled and folded upon itself into a tiny compact of creases;
Without discarding or erasing even one
Of the countless teeth marks
Upon pre-existing teeth marks.
Gum that is quietly spending time fossilizing.
Gum neither torn nor smashed
Nor completely mangled
However strong a force capable of ripping through meat and cracking open nuts
Has gnashed it over and over.
Gum soft as flesh,
Chewy as meat,
Elastic as plump limbs flailing between teeth,
Awakens the teeth to long forgotten memories of carnage—
Enjoyable blood, flesh and stench.
Gum that has absorbed into its body
A murderous intent and hostility stamped by teeth throughout the history of this Earth.
Gum that has been squashed, ground, and pressed to its fullest
Then grudgingly released
Because the teeth were exhausted first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Translated by Yang Eun-Mi and Edward Bok Lee

 

 

Author's Profile

Kim Ki-taek is a poet, translator, and professor. He has published six poetry collections, one essay collection, and numerous children’s books; he has also translated many children’s books, including Hans in Luck. He has won the Kim Su-Young Literary Award, Hyundae Literary Award, Isu Literary Award, and Midang Literary Award. His books Storm in the Needle Hole and Gum have been published in Japan and Mexico, respectively.