Selected Poetry from Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow

  • onMarch 22, 2018
  • Vol.39 Spring 2018
  • byShim Bo-Seon
Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow
Tr. Chung Eun-Gwi & Brother Anthony of Taizé


Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow


Above a distant high-rise apartment
the sun is beating its breast,
at its wits’ end beside the daytime moon.
Where shame is concerned, the world went to the dogs long ago.
Sometimes about fifteen seconds pass without sorrow.
Offering every possible excuse,
paths are bending everywhere.
The silence gathering on dusky sidewalks
hopes to grow older there by the second.
As they grow older, all beings leak when it rains.
All old beings that leak
dream of love like installing a new roof.
Everyone knows: whatever happens
was bound to turn out as it did.
One afternoon as the sun is squeezing out light with all its might,
the past goes walking backward and falls headlong
over the apartment railings. The future follows immediately after.
The present, being simply a flower’s day, a flower’s day
being the time it takes a flower to bloom and fall, is sad.
A cat is happily nibbling flower petals.
A woman is sipping chamomile tea.
They seem quiet and peaceful.
I stand aimlessly in the middle of the street.
A man passes by on a bicycle, weeping.
He is a human being destined to fall in the end.
The dream-garden in my head where dizziness is in full bloom.
Now about fifteen seconds have passed without sorrow.
I should set off somewhere,
but no matter where, ultimately, it’s a disappearing path.




I Laugh, I Have To 


Since father died,
there has been no high-flown talk in our family.
But under the blue fluorescent light,
my mom’s basic English has improved day by day.

My mom asks me, What does ‘nation’ mean?
It means ‘people’; it was a word Father liked a lot.
I see.
Ask me anything you like.
Does ‘Tom and Jerry’ mean ‘cat and mouse’?
Ha-ha-ha, you joke more often as you get older.

I am the interpreter.
I am the oldest son who laughs loudly.
Even if tragedy strikes again,
even if there is no salvation anywhere,
I have to interpret exactly
and, finally, laugh loudly.

As the eldest son, simply as the eldest son,
I’ll fight on until the bitter end
with our family’s aimless, vague emotions,
unsure if they’re pathos, or grief, or pity.


When I go speeding along the riverside on Father’s bike, its tires flabby,
the landscape’s tawdry reality gradually reveals itself.
Flowers bloom and wither,
snow drifts high then melts.
that’s all.
And sometimes at shallow rapids
a white heron goes flying up, displaying glossy plumage.

Long ago I once buried a dead bird.
After that, wounded birds used to come and faint at my feet.
How charming, last words expressed only in chirping.

A bird, I don’t know what it’s called, staggers near,
blind in one eye.
If it were not for the chirping, birds’ lively language,
it would be nothing but a black smudge whirling in the shadows, though


I am walking with Mother in autumn sunshine.
Turning my hand palm-downward, the back of my hand gleams bright,
the word “warmish” means “warmish,”
“the rest of my life” means repeating autumn, winter, spring, summer a number of times.

When I ponder the strange connection between wounded birds and myself
in the autumn sunlight,
the world grows impossibly still.
It may be lonely, may be sad, but Mother’s heart keeps beating pit-pat, pit-pat.

I’ve heard that a suicide shouted, Jump!
as he threw himself off the roof of a building.
His heart must have beat an irregular pitta-pat, pitta-pat
cheerfully until the moment it stopped.

but other people’s things abandoned in the shadows,
those very common palms and hand-backs,
are awkwardly enduring the rest of their life as cold air spreads clearly.
It’s a thing to be endured. It has to be, surely.


Tell me where there is meaning apart from people and language.
I will dwell there, spending all the seasonal seasons that remain.
But I must feel pathos, grief, pity, for the things already given me
as of now are all there are.

Ah, black smudges came and went beneath my feet.

In sunlight or in shadows
I laugh, I just have to laugh
for the things already given me
as of now are simply all there are
as of now. 





Today, I


Today, like a trembling feather I have no goal.
Today, I am hiding behind things that have already vanished.
The sun, having lost morning’s susceptibility,
glares in twilight’s purple dignity.
Once the moon bears evening’s rank pressed down on its head,
night will soon begin with the mournful expression of a passerby.
Black carcasses of birds I was indifferent to,
ash-hued segments drawn one by one on foreheads,
the sound of a neighbor hammering late,
other things like this and that.
Desperate about feelings and rules, I
forgot bygone times,
forgot dead friends,
forgot what agonies I was immersed in last year.
Today, I make a hole called the future in the calendar.
Next week’s desires,
Next month’s void,
as well as requiems
of decisive nausea,
my share of tragedy, I know they still remain.
I know everyone has the right to hate.
Today I was scowling at someone’s mournful face.
Today I began to love one woman.




Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow
(Parlor Press, 2016), p. 8, pp. 23-25.
Trans. Chung Eun-Gwi & Brother Anthony of Taizé
Copyright © 2008 by Shim Bo-Seon.
Translation Copyright © 2016 by Parlor Press.
Reprinted with permission from Parlor Press.

Author's Profile

Shim Bo-Seon made his debut when he won the Chosun Ilbo New Writer’s Contest in 1994. He has authored the poetry collections Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow, Someone Always in the Corner of My Eye, and Today, I’m Not So Sure and has co-authored the essay collections Today’s Progressive Ideas and Smoked Art. He has received the Nojak Literary Prize, Kim Jun-Sung Literary Award, and Kim Jong-sam Poetry Award. He is a professor of culture and arts management at Kyung Hee Cyber University. English translations of his books include Fifteen Seconds without Sorrow (Parlor Press, 2016) and Someone Always in the Corner of My Eye (White Pine Press, 2016).