Higher than the Heart & Other Poems [+ Web Exclusive]

  • onSeptember 4, 2018
  • Vol.41 Autumn 2018
  • byShin Cheolgyu


Higher than the Heart


I was soaking my body in the tub when the electricity went out.
Outside, it rains and
rustedsadnesses float to the surface.
A terrified child runs through a dark hallway.

Is there anyone outside?
The empty bathroom echoes with my voice, which wanders a long while and then stops.

The heart beats ceaselessly to send the blood to a place higher than itself.
Gravity drags the blood down and
the heart, with a force greater than gravity, sends the blood flowing to every part of the body.

The blood that arrives at the tips of my toes, what does it think about on the way back?
I look at my toes. They are like a coastline.

When we die, do the heart and soul stop at the same time?
The brain will clamor for blood,
the oxygen-deprived lungs will sink, little by little,
and the blood circulating in the body will lose its momentum when the heart stops, and hesitate

unable to move forward or turn back
like lips becoming parched because they couldn’t find the words to speak.
Then will my soul stop, somewhere in my body?

When the water rises to heart-height, there’s no one who isn’t anxious.
When you walk into deep water,
you unconsciously raise your hands above your head.

The uncollapsable collapsed and the unsinkable sank.
The faces of my dreams melted down like dough.
Like not-quite-erased graffiti, they were blurry and smudged.

A dream someone crumpled.
A dream someone trampled.

Sometimes certain memories are engraved on the heart.
With every heartbeat, they run down the veins, bleeding through the body.

I was scared and lonely so I cried in the water.
Because I was scared, I was lonely, and
because I was lonely, I was scared.
A cat is scratching the bathroom door with its front paws.

The electricity comes back and the lights turn on.
The blurry ceiling hanging with droplets comes into view and

dense vapors rise between the dark and light.
Losing bits of each other,
stealing bits of each other.

My heart, now a chunk of lead, presses my whole body down.


From Munhak dongne no. 93 (2017 Winter)



Month 11

The same numbers are standing side by side.

The sunrays come through the window and shine in diagonally.
The peach fuzz on your left cheek gently dances
and your right cheek is sharpened by the shade.
I come and sit a little closer toward the sun.

What are you going to do when the first snow falls?

Not sure if this is the whispering of love or a declaration of goodbye, my heart sinks
down a stretch or so.
The measuring weight in my body gets heavier.
My feelings that flowed in waves split into particles and scatter.

Indoors, the music shimmers up like a heat haze.
If you turn on music in a silent room, does the room become that much heavier?
Is there a weight to sound?
The times that have passed, where are they stacked up?

Did you know? The leaves turn colors in the tropics too. They turn colors in the dry season,
not because of the cold, but because the air is dry.

The trees drop their leaves to trap the water seeped in its body.
The sun, caught between two trees.
The thorned shackles made by the branches.

Abandoned light.
The pure white vertigo of the hand that let the cup slip.
Smoke rises from the hand.

In the far future we won’t be able to recognize each other.
Like the way you touch the ghosts in the mirror with the palm of your hand.

The pupils crowding into the mirror, terrifying.
Faces with lips erased.

The knife’s tip is sharp because it has something to stab.
A dulled feeling collapses with nothing to stab at.

A butterfly is sitting on your lips, and
it flies away when I reach out to catch it.                

One by one, I brush off the oxidized feelings.
Like a hollowed out tree, I lower my head and look at the ground.

A bird made of yarn does not sing.


From Axt no.15, 2017. 11/12



Those Shoes That Day - Whose Were They?

When you shave, some feelings get shaved off.
I look in the mirror and stroke my chin.
My lips are metallic-cold.
The soft season has gone.

A funeral in a basement —
heat flows out, along with light.
The fluorescent light comes down like a veil and tints
the faces yellow.
The shadows cast on the wall undulate, blurry.

Some laugh like a fallen leaf and
some shiver like a brittle branch.

With our faces a mix of laughing and crying, we talk and hand each other glasses of alcohol.
From the look on the face of the person sitting in front of me, I read the look on mine.
Sometimes, to clear our cracked voices,
we close our mouths.
Talk had become a thin film, and it was separating us from each other.
As soon as I lower my face, my hair comes down, covers my face.

Someone left wearing the wrong shoes, but the owner of those shoes can’t be found.
He might have confused the indoor slippers for his shoes and maybe he’ll realize it suddenly, in a taxi.

A strange current flows in the shoes.
Schemes, poking out when a foot is pushed inside.

A fallen leaf tumbles.
A light leaf.
The heavy leaves are stuck on the ground.
Holding moisture, they are stuck flat on the ground.

The steeple of the church in front of the funeral is piercing the dark clouds.
If the clouds sank a little lower, ink might stream down from them.

I was standing in front of a pharmacy with its lights off.
There are all those pills in this world, but
there are just as many diseases coming into existence, even now.

The whole way home I walked looking at the end of my foot,
like that was the end of the world.

Wet shoes are placed in front of the door.


From Webzine VIEW no.1, 2018. 1



The Gravity of Tears

The cross is somewhere high up
and the night scoops the moon out with a giant spoon and eats it.

Someone is crying facedown.

To keep the tears from seeping into the ground
he is holding his streaming tears in his two hands.

When the face of the one who turns around suddenly stiffens white,
when a bottomless sadness is so brilliant that your whole body crumbles —

some tears are so heavy that you have to cry facedown.

Eyes closed: a log bloated with water floats around in his eyes.

As if God is perched on his back,
his spine cannot be straightened.

His hands and feet that will be nailed, he tucks them into his body and
becomes a teardrop as hard as a rock.

The night
does not stop spooning until the moon becomes a horn.


From As Sad As the Earth, Munhakdongne, 2017


Opaque Eternity

I put the flat of my hand on a sheet and trace its outline with a pen.
The top of the wrist does not close.

The shadow of a cross, stamped on the floor.
We are standing in front of a riddle.

The wrists that wash in toward the coast,
a curtain on fire.

The sky is lumpy like it was pummeled with fists
and the trees sway lazily.
A sadness that doesn’t sway.

If I try to put my hand in the water,
I see another hand floating up to grasp it.

The clock is filled with water.
The prayer is finished.


From Lyric Peotry and Poetics no. 74 (2017 Summer)





Black Room


Because of sadness overload, we sank.
Sadness was lopsided, so the world stumbled.

We wanted to call God’s name but we couldn’t figure out if it was a common noun
or a proper noun so we gave up.
The two hands in prayer filled to the brim with black water.

Staying still is death.
The more I tried to stay still, the more my body tensed.
I was becoming stiff.

The bereaved family standing barefoot on the beach,
the distance that couldn’t be touched with bare skin made them frozen still.
The back of someone who has to have nightmares until they die.
Massacre is like a nightmare everyone has at the same time.

There was no blood circulating in the hands and feet
and the eyes beat wildly as if they were directly connected to the heart.

Where everything is still, that’s hell.
Where the flowers and trees don’t wilt, but stay alive.
Where the stars don’t move but are still, nailed to their places.
Dead heart, dead fingers, dead pupils.

If the one who has to comfort and the one who needs comforting are a single person,
is prayer all we have left?

We must float up.
We must crawl up.
Nobody is hauling us up.

Fall is still far off, but everywhere, chrysanthemums.
Fall is long past, but the scent of chrysanthemums still cover this world.
Like sitting in a room with a black plastic bag over my head, I’m suffocating.
Even in my dreams the air was thin.

The beach became an altar.
In the middle of the ocean, a black lung made of steel was floating.



The Rotation of Sadness

The inside of earth is filled with tears.

An interview with the children who live in the slums near Tower Palace.
The only child in class who wasn’t invited to the birthday party
was as sad as the earth.
The low permitless buildings surrounding the area around Tower Palace,
the table of those who weren’t invited.

She fiddles with the apple and thinks of a long-ago deportation.
Carefully, carefully, she peels the apple.
She tilts the apple to match the tilt of rotation, she tenses the hand holding the knife -
the edge that digs into the flesh.

One at a time, the child writes the names of the foods he wants to eat on an empty plate
with his fingers wet with water.

The apple peel trembles, nearly breaking off
every time the apple is rotated.
Her pupils are like a well, black and clear and deep.

At the tip of her tongue tears are hanging.
How long they must have rolled around in her to roll off
so round, plonk plonk.
The flesh of the apple yellows.

Sitting at the corner of the table we
put apple slices in each other’s mouths.
When I take a bite, a salty taste fills my mouth.

Like a planet beginning to rotate for the first time, we were desolate.




Even after crying a long while, when I went on the scale my weight was the same.
If souls had weight
the earth would have caved in a long time ago.

On days I cry a lot in my dreams, my eyes won’t open, even when day breaks.
It feels like I had no pupils in my eyes.

With splints around our hearts and stiff knees, we came here.
Voice stacks on top of voice.
With a stone around every neck
we build a tower of voices.

The many clocks pointing at different times
in the clock room rang simultaneously.
If we cried simultaneously, the sea levels would probably rise.

Our voices sink down as they are stacked.
Our tower was not growing toward the sky, it was deepening toward the underground.

Wet souls walk up, stepping on the stairs of water.
Walking up the dark spiral staircase, a fluctuating flock of candlelight.

Black water fills the insides of the ears
and our voices become a cave.

The citizens of Israel looking through binoculars at the enemy city being bombarded -
to them, what a strong fortress Zion is. Our hearts
are splintered like the documents shredded in a shredder.
Broken lights become a song
and broken cries become ripples, the scales of water.

The rocks hanging from our necks heavier now, we scatter
to gather here again, bringing other languages, other words. 




The planet we live on is so small,
you could see the sunset all day if you kept moving your chair back.*

The planet we live on is so small,
I built my house on the opposite side of you.
When it is night for me, it’s day for you,
when it’s dark for me, it’s bright for you,
so our pupils became a little fainter or darker.

The planet we live on is so small,
you can walk the equator in a few steps.
When we walk across the equator, taking off the fur coat we just put on
and hanging it over our arms,
our skin becomes suddenly hot and then quickly freezes.
On melting ice, we hug each other.

I tell a fun and amusing story
to you once a day.
About a meteor that you didn’t notice or
the aliens that briefly visited only the other side of the planet.
You say Don’t lie, and wave your hands.

I wish there was an ocean.
Between you and me
an ocean I can swim endlessly toward you in,
an ocean with occasional high waves that make me want to give up.

We have our backs to each other one minute and then become lips trying to get closer.

If I stab someone with a knife the length of the earth’s circumference, will that make my guilt
Is guilt proportional to the length of the knife?

The planet we live on is so small,
the only character that appears in your dreams is me.
Facing each other, we underline the other’s past sins.


*The Little Prince, Saint-Exupéry



Drift Ice


With breath you can cool down hot food
or thaw someone’s frozen hands.

In a teardrop, you can flood someone
or a teardrop can also freeze him. 

You, clockwise,
and I, counterclockwise, stir our coffee cups.
Like interlocked gears, we could not give each other up to the end.
Slowly, we became a hardened ball of snow
made of breath and tears.

Beyond the window a pair of lovers sprinkle powdered snow on each other, ball up snow
and throw it,
run through the snow field with both arms open.

A bouquet-like whirlwind blows and it starts snowing on the sandy beach.
White sand crystals flying up toward the sky.
We fly, our paths spiraling high.

A sail fluttering in the air,
a powder-white curtain,
the seafoam of the beach.

Even if we shoot the clock tower
and crush our wristwatches with the back heels of our shoes,
cannot return to that first kiss.

I, clockwise,
and you, counter-clockwise -
the two of us like drift ice of different speeds
drifting slowly down into our own whirlpools.


From As Sad As the Earth, Munhakdongne, 2017

Translated by Hedgie Choi

Author's Profile

Shin Cheolgyu debuted in 2011 when he won the Chosun Ilbo New Writer’s Contest for his poem “Drift Ice.” He published his first poetry collection, As Sad as the Earth, in 2017. His poem “Higher than the Heart” was selected as the winner of the 2018 Today’s Poetry Award by fellow writers and poets.