I Don’t Know Who You Are but I Love You

  • onMarch 22, 2018
  • Vol.39 Spring 2018
  • byShin Daechul
I Don’t Know Who You Are but I Love You

The horizon rising through the fog abruptly
divides the land, south and north

The dawn pushes trenches into the earth
and returns, wrapped in fog,
the glimpsed blue river washed in snow
and wound around its neck and torso

The wind blows, the Korean flag flies.
The wind blows, the UN flag flies.
Between the pair of fluttering flags
Someone comes up the mountain path. Halt! He only pretends to halt. No hands-up, no waving of a white handkerchief, his head sags as he slinks towards me. Somewhere in my body someone shouts.
(Wait, there’s a barbed wire fence
Wait, there’s a minefield
Wait, show us your hands,
raise them up and turn around!)

Kingfisher! Ibis!

Passwords exchanged at the last second, but a path lengthens whitely between the eyebrows. The closer he gets, the more thorns I feel on me. At this line of division, we become a lump of lightning or rainstorm of anxiety or fear, hug each other until our breaths crack and we go our separate ways, and meet again two days early
With the barbed wire between us, we
wordlessly look at each other
Who are we
standing like stop signs?

Kingfisher ibis kingfisher ibis
King-i-fish-i-er-i king-i-fish-i-er-i
From fifty speakers, little by little
code-deciphered lyrics fall into
the rhythm of “Casa Bianca” on the hill

The sleeper agents in their army boots walk up to the “Casa Bianca.” When they return, all they have thoughts as inerasable as the foot-stink of a damp mattress or a sleeping bag that’s lost its feathers, but they, too, follow the strains of the song and fall into their verse. Corporal Cho searches for his runaway wife, the love-letter scribe Sargent Kim gathers the squash vines on his garden wall and loiters around his hometown stream, and what about Private Kim who left his widowed mother alone at the southern end of the land? He postscripts his letters—telling them to thresh barley and hire hands on such-and-such day of such-and-such month, and only to plant vegetables in the garden—before falling asleep.

We go down to the bunker. You sit on the edge of the bed with your back to the dim light, you who have given up on your mission and come over the line of division and are crouching before it now, what do you hear? The team leader? The keeper? You’re beginning to lean to the side in the dark and whenever the comm rings you sit up and peer into the chain-smoking fog and push the comm into the corner and pull it towards you and fill your two hands with your face, (you are not my blood and you are not your blood, we are we, the blood of a nation, if not, if not-not, then what?)

Last last night you burned your hair on the fiery rainstorm and today you burn your heart on the sound of footsteps ringing through the bunker, and I also wrap my fire-grazed face with my hands. If you follow where your heart flows, from east to west, drink a gourd or water and reach the blasted rice-paddy levees of your rural home, where the faces like apricot flowers and peach blossoms shall come out on the ice.
(But is there nowhere to return to if you survive
Is it possible to be soulless while still alive)

The black clouds of yesterday blot the sky
The broken ankles of dead soldiers
dangle and slap their knees
The sun arcs and arcs across the sky
towards you who have nowhere to return,

past the checkpoint dust
a jeep drives in,
it darkens, whoosh
a fire catches on my back.

The one you wanted to see, if only from afar? Who is neither mother nor lover? I shall keep close the cigarette stubs you left behind, your nervous eyes, your dark gestures, your trembling voice coming through the code, and while I live I shall, from where the trembling voice rises, write poetry from what I have, as I trembled, seen and heard and felt and dreamed and bled. I shall transcend myself and you, abandon ideology for ideology, nation for nation

Goodbye, you who are
absent between the two flags and
nowhere in our land,
I don’t know who you are but I love you.



Translated by Anton Hur
Photo ⓒ NOH Suntag, Red House II #BFK2901, 2005

Author's Profile

Shin Daechul has published the poetry collections For the Desert Island, For My Friend from the Gaema Highlands, Baikal Kiss, and I Don’t Know Who You Are but I Love You. He has received the Baek Seok Prize for Literature, the Pak Tu-Jin Literary Award, and the Kim Daljin Literary Award.