Pale Shadows of Old Love
- onNovember 16, 2014
- Vol.23 Spring 2014
- byKim Kwang-Kyu
- Pale Shadows of Old Love
We met at five in the afternoon –
late in the year of the April Revolution –
clasped hands in glad greeting,
sat in a cold, unheated room,
frosted the air in heated discussion.
We were foolish enough to believe
we would live for something,
something divorced from politics.
The meeting ended without resolution. That night
we downed large bowls of grog in Hyehwa−dong Rotary
and wrestled innocently with the problems of
love, part-time jobs, and military service.
Each of us sang at the top of his lungs:
songs no one listened to,
no one imitated.
We sang without thought of profit:
our songs rose in the winter sky
and fell as shooting stars.
Eighteen years later we put on ties
and gathered again. We were something now:
we were the new generation, afraid of the revolution.
A sub of 10,000 won was collected.
We inquired about wives and children,
asked each other how much we earned,
worried at the rising cost of living,
gladly deplored the state of the world,
gossiped in expertly modulated voices.
No one sang. We left a goodly amount of drink
and expensive side-dishes,
noted changed phone numbers and parted.
Some went to play poker,
some went to dance,
and some of us walked the streets of Tongsung−dong
with empty hearts.
We had come back after long wanderings,
rolled calendars tucked importantly under our arms,
back to where old love once bled.
A few unfamiliar buildings interposed suspiciously,
but the roadside plane trees were in their wonted places.
The few remaining desiccated leaves
made us bow our heads.
Aren’t you ashamed,
aren’t you ashamed?
The wind whispered around our ears.
Deliberately we talked middle-aged health
and took another step deep into the swamp.
* Translated by Kevin O’Rourke
** First published in Looking for the Cow: Modern Korean Poems (Dedalus Press, 1999). Reprinted with permission from the author and translator.