Selected Poetry from The Word Stained the Leaves

  • onJune 20, 2018
  • Vol.40 Summer 2018
  • byRa Heeduk
Selected Poetry from The Word Stained the Leaves
Tr. Lauren Albin


Sleeping on a Nail


Under that roof the swallow’s nest which was also too small
was full to the brim with only the chicks that were born
and the mother covered the nest with her wing while barely managing to fall asleep
Who stuck it right in the side? One nail
If not that nail
then where did the father pass his time at night?
My burning eyes were raised toward
the swallow perched on the nail above who spends all night dozing
The Jongam-dong bus station, the wind fans the dust
as a man waits with three children
after the passing of many buses
In her tiredness an exhausted woman ascended, and because of her paleness
how much more did the half-split moonlight pale?
The children ran catching their mother’s hem
and a man who stood in the same spot gazing at the thin
moonbeam, I think I know what’s in his heart tonight.
The soiled green walnut felt inside the pocket of unemployment
does not easily break
and instead of a reasonable home
the father that endures living on one nail,
the wind still seeming to raise the dust in the streets
Even though the hazy moonlight on the path they took as they left
managed to make a silhouette of the family members holding hands
the alley was too narrow to do so
The shadow of the father always one step behind
that teetering reminiscent of
the single nail, the sleep on it





Mourning Moll Magee


She who emerges from the salt mines with a blackened face
to trudge back home,
inside the worn body the suckled breast empty of milk
she who carelessly relaxes into sleep with her breast bitten
by the baby, the next day’s dawn
she who is embracing the child that suffocated to death
and is beaten, Moll Magee Moll Magee
the children followed her as they pelted her with stones.
Since I wondered if it was I that threw the stones
that poetry of Yeats, no the woman
would not leave my mind for a long time.

Now having spent all of my day plowing the field
on my return home I can suddenly see myself being beaten like that.
I can see the baby sobbing at the bottom of the breast.
Words turn to stone
the expression in its eye turns to stone
and our clasped hands turn to stone too.
it falls in front of my face, a shattered knee
the blood streaming from Moll Magee's wound
that still won’t end
how many times a day must I witness this,
clean the flowing blood while still, still
having to run toward the field
in the field the many stones that must be planted this way.


Based on the poem “The Ballad of Moll Magee” by William Butler Yeats.




A Cold Rain Falls


Letter 1

The flowers we bloomed in a fever
hurt hurt hurt from last night’s rain
But I worry that it’s hard for you
so I can’t hurt too
Neither can the rain drops slipping
down the railing all night
drip one last drop
and are suspended in midair
In order to fall, in order to shrink away,
are those suspended things of mine
by the weight of their tearfulness
so dazzling?
Is this torturing hunch
the same as the sweet scent
the withering flowers emit?
But I worry that it’s hard for you
so to my heart’s content I can’t be fragrant either




When the Tree Bough Trembled for a Long Time


Letter 2

When the world seems to forget me
there is one flying swallow
Now when I am feeling like I don’t mind being forgotten
suddenly a flying bird
causes a great wave in my heart and flies away
Then I want to live in the world again
and reading and reading until the edges of the book wear out
I’ll wait for someone
Although the sparrow doesn’t turn down its feathers inside me
and flies immediately to that far distant place
when the bough the bird flies from trembles for a long time
inside of that reverberation I listen
There was no day of easy sunset for you either
Like that, the song must have called you






Little Thing


Where did it come from? On a lonely mountain path
a baby chipmunk apparently just born
is blankly staring at me
Faced with that clear expression in its eyes
there is nothing I can cling to
All the world’s little things
raise their bright tails in front of me
and call me Mother
Uselessly the chest numbs
so the hardened breast is made smooth and round
By the time the breast is full and the armpit aches
how long will my little ones
have yearned for the milk?
Suddenly I remember that I wrung the breast and wept
That innocent pupil
which does not even think to escape,
I can’t leave you anywhere
Even I can’t leave

I end up descending the mountain road I was climbing
Ah, in the puddle a school of minnows unharmed





Too Early, or Too Late


If there is also a speed to love, that thing is probably
the same as the pine midge’s devastation of a forest

As though for a moment, as though for a season
if after a heart falls sick something still remains
it must be a long and longer time
that it should wear on itself its consumed heart

Even the verdant green forest
which doesn’t fall sick often
tenses its sensitive leaves
and quivers its gray shadow
in the passing wind

Too early, or too late
It seems tinged with autumn
from far away, even that strange color is beautiful

(Excerpted from p. 12, 14, 15, 22, 25, 28, 30.)


Translated by Lauren Albin

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Author's Profile

Ra Heeduk has authored eight poetry collections, including A Disappeared Palm (2004), three essay collections, and two volumes of literary criticism. Her collections in translation include Scale & Stairs (2006), Wild Apple (2011), and Le ver à soie marqué d'un point noir (2017). She participated in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2007. Ra teaches creative writing at Chosun University.