Growth of a Shadow


Selected Poems by Taejoon Moon
Translated from the Korean by Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill

In room 302, which houses six patients from Kimcheon Hospital,
she lies in bed with her oxygen mask and struggles with her cancer.
She lies there like a flatfish on the floor of the sea.
I lie down beside her like another flatfish.
When one flatfish glances at another, she bursts into tears.
The emaciated woman cries, with one eye moving into the other.
She looks forward only to death, I look back at the billowing days of her life.
I remember her life in the water, gliding to the right and left,
the lanes she took, the cuckoo’s song at noon,
the nights she boiled thin noodles, and the history of her family
which for generations couldn’t build mud walls.
I remember the winter day that her legs slowly forked
and her back bent like branches under heavy snow.
The sound of her breath roughens like the bark of an elm.
I know she can no longer see the world beyond death;
one eye has moved darkly into the other.
I swim and twist to the right and left, toward her, I lie down quietly beside her.
She sprinkles on my dry body drops of water drawn through her mask.

A Breath

Let’s call the period between the blossoming of a flower
and its falling a breath.
Let’s call a breath the period
between a flower letting its body open with a cry
and its opened blossoms crying again
to shed its petals.
Even a flowering tree has lungs like a muddy field;
it breathes with the ebbing tide,
it counts off another when it shakes in the wind.
My father has suffered through sixty winters;
let’s call his measly life a breath.

The Ginko Behind Unmoon Temple

In the yard behind Unmoon Temple stood a thousand-year-old ginkgo tree.
Yellow leaves piled up on the spot where its shadow used to fall.
Leaves were slowly falling and piling up on the tedious shadow of its body.
There was no movement at all
except the tree shedding its own leaves.
Falling should always be like this. It was so beautiful —
the tree looked like a golden temple, with a golden pond at its base.
The golden scales of carp were falling into the water and piling up on the bottom.
I wish my last breath would slip away like that, when I die.
I wish I could unload everything from my body, to be free of the wind
and clean after death.
I wish I could close my eyes first and hear the sound of my body collapsing
when I die.