I want to go to the island
You get on the ferry, dragging along a small bag.
It’s midnight and you’re bored. You can’t fall asleep.
You go out on the deck. The vast sky and ocean are a black mirror. It wavers.
You think about the sleeping fish, submerged inside the black mirror.
You think about the gluttony of the vast mirror that leaves nothing behind, not even
Then we’d be inside this black mirror 24 hours a day, and who’d dip a pen into
You head to the cafeteria to shake off your ominous thoughts.
You might have heard the ship floating on black water sobbing sadly.
You receive a phone call after midnight.
The call’s about the emptiness of your being gone.
This is the thousandth call.
But the emptiness over there is transmitted to you in spite of the calls.
You go into the hallway and pick up the receiver and sing the oldest song you
So someone feeling empty can hear the song as soon as she opens her eyes
As you listen to the sounds the sleeping bodies make.
For the thousandth time the same seat, same posture, same bodies, same smell,
Because you heard the announcement for breakfast.
It’s your morning call.
The same menu, same table, same radish kimchi, same taste, same sound, same
You’re almost there.
The sun is high up in the sky and the sea is calm. Wash your face, pack your bags,
For the thousandth time you don’t reach the island.
You won’t be able to reach the island yet.
The moment you think that arrival is near
you board the ferry in the middle of the night, dragging along a small bag.
The sound of the horn from the departing boat makes your heart flutter.
Again, it’s midnight and you’re bored. You can’t fall asleep.
You go out on the deck.
The vast sky and ocean are a black mirror.Translator’s note:
This poem is based on the capsizing of the Sewol ferry on April 16, 2014, in South Korea. A group of high school students on a field trip to Jeju Island was among the 304 drowned passengers. Many believe neoliberal deregulation and privatization that led to safety violations played a crucial role in the sinking of the ship, including the state’s dismal failure to rescue the passengers. The poem is one of the 49 poems that make up a long poem called “Autobiography of Death.” Each poem represents a day in the 49 days during which spirit roams about after departing from the body at death.
Kim Hyesoon is one of the most prominent poets of South Korea. She lives in Seoul and teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Her most recent books in translation are Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (Action Books, 2014) and I’m OK, I’m Pig (Bloodaxe Books, 2014).
Don Mee Choi is the author of The Morning News Is Exciting (Action Books, 2010), and translator of contemporary Korean women poets. Her most recent works include a chapbook, Petite Manifesto (Vagabond Press, 2014), and a pamphlet, Freely Frayed, ㅋ=q, Race=Nation (Wave Books, 2014). Her second book of poems, Hardly War, is forthcoming from Wave Books in 2016.