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61 article(s) translated from Korean

Genesis

Only a few machines on this moon-base remain working. The satellite camera that always faces Earth, the monitor connected to that camera, the memory device, and the replay device. They run on solar power, so I suppose they’ll stay on as long as the sun exists. They’ll keep their vigil over Earth after I’m gone. The sun won’t last forever, but at least I’ll have disappeared before it goes out. It’s sad to disappear. I guess it’s like being an old...

Wizard Bakery

The Devil’s Cinnamon Cookies. 2 per serving. 9000 won. Ingredients: flour, cinnamon, brown sugar, raisins, and a secret extract. The essence of the extract will not be revealed, as certain ingredients may be found revolting. (Baker’s note: Extract contains no known allergens, so not to worry. Besides, you’re not going to eat it yourself!) Product Details: Give the cookie to someone you don’t like. The cookie will mentally incapacitate the recipient for an average...

A Poem I Didn’t Name

Now is a time of national mourning. Not for the death of a king we have never seen. Now is a time of national mourning during which we all should thrust our heads down  to the bottom of the sea where the flower-like lives,  the greening lives of children we still have in our eyes were all taken from them, murdered so absurdly. For goodness’s sake! For goodness’s sake! What a dreadful life it will be where we have to go on living with all those bright children, those...

Say Ah, Pelican

Boat People Yawn. Yawning always makes me sleepy. There are still two boats out on the water, but I lie down anyway. There’d be trouble if the boss saw me. It would be so great if the polar ice caps melted right now. No one would care about a ticket-taker asleep at an amusement park if there were a flood, would they? Slowly melting, melting . . . so tired. I lie down and close my eyes like a dying rat. I’m a rat. Dying. Four o’clock in the afternoon. I can tell, even...

from “I’ll Be Right There”

Dahn sent me the first letter a year after he joined the military and was selected for the special forces. It was more than five pages long. He didn’t mention anywhere in it that he was in a special forces unit. I unfolded the letter and put it on my desk. From GI Dahn to Civilian Yoon . . . I stared at those words for a long time. It pained me to realize that I had never written him back. I filled a fountain pen with ink, took out a new notebook, and wrote his name at the...

Injeolmi Rice Cakes

Once Maternal Grandmother set off, a basin of injeolmi rice-cakes on her head, to sell in this neighborhood and that, I would pull out scraps of glass, bottle tops, a broken pocketknife, medicine bottles, a handle-less fruit knife, burst beanbags, all hidden on the sunny side of the old wattle fence behind the privy, and play with them. Bored of even that after half a day, I would chase the innocent chickens from the house behind, then end up being scolded by my youngest aunt for scuffling...

The Vegetarian

Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn’t even attracted to her. Middling height; bobbed hair neither long nor short; jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, sallow aspect told me all I needed to know. As she came up to the table where I was waiting, I couldn’t help but notice her shoes—the plainest black shoes imaginable. And...

Lament

He was fifty-four years old with a sound mind and a body that was rotting away. He died. He wasn’t young enough to have required a specific cause of death, or young enough to cause great sadness. Only a vague sadness existed about death itself. He died at fifty-four years of age, and he had no one who would be sad about his death. There was no one who would remember him. Because he had already died he couldn’t even claim ownership over such people. Death meant losing all things,...

The Suit

My friend F’s call came in the middle of December, when the snow would not stop coming down and Manhattan was all but paralyzed. He said he had to get to New York right away but couldn’t find a hotel room since it was Christmas, and he asked if he could stay with us for a few days. My wife and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment so all we had to offer was a loveseat in the living room, but we told him he could come if he was OK with that. I wouldn’t say that F and I...

Ascending Scales

The first thing I learned in piano class was how to press Do. Since it’s the first note, you use your first finger. When I pressed the key, Do let out a weak doooooh. I pressed it again so I wouldn’t forget the same Do. Caught off guard, Do stammered out another doooooh and watched the trajectory of its name as it floated by. I sat in that spot where a single note had disappeared so neatly, my pinky finger sticking up. The afternoon sunlight trickled faintly through the cracks...

Gamak Valley

During wartime the men die, the women survive. Cockerels have their necks twisted and die, hens sit on eggs. Gamak Valley in Yeonsan, north of Nonsan in South Chungcheong is where sharp hills approach the ridges of Mount Gyeryong. Fifty men died there, once, while two men twisted their hair into topknots and revered Kim Il-Bu’s esoteric “Jeongyeok.” The small room, the door of which is never opened was pitch dark even at midday. Yeonsan’s Gamak Valley. Some forty...

My Wife’s Magic

My wife is sad and seeing my sad wife, I too am sad, then as she answers her mother’s phone call, “Sure, we’re fine,” the wife inside my wife grows sadder still. I want to live in a world that’s perfect like magic. The rabbit that came out of a hat voluntarily goes back into the hat. When I try to go into a mirror, I wonder why the rigid surface stops me? A mother abandons her child, a job abandons a father, a disease abandons a sick person and a magician...

Winter That Year

I think the time has finally come when I can try to explain what happened that winter, all those years ago. I’m well past thirty now, and I’ve got a family I have to provide for; so every morning I go out to work, wearing a suit and really looking quite respect­able. At last I have come to realize that all our feelings need to be filtered over and over again, and that fine phrases achieved by exaggera­tion, or mis­repres­ent­ation, are nothing at all to be...

Mud Flats

She lies there with her hugely pregnant body. At dawn a ship leaves, cutting through her stomach. As it emerges from her body, headed for the sea, trailing its umbilical cord, oh, from within her body forcefully the innocent sun is driven out and up. Inside her empty body remain scattered shrouds, nothing but head-towels women forgot. Empty cockle shells that become feed for living creatures become silent, empty midday houses. A flock of speckled seagulls comes flying, they force their way...

Earning My Keep

Mother, I think I'll go pay a visit to Hell. No matter how far away, I'll set off as if leaving for work in the morning then come back as if coming off work in the evening. Don't skip meals, chew your food well before swallowing, be sure to turn off the gas when you step out, and don't worry too much about me. Hell too must be a place where people live, so if I go to Hell to earn my keep at last I'll be able to become a human being....

I Want to Call Her Mother Again

My mother’s last words to us as we stood in the middle of the empty potato field, her voice carrying above the razor-sharp wind that seemed to carve away at our flesh, still ring in my ears. “You’re on your own now. I don’t have the strength to go any farther with you two.” Despite the howling wind that ripped and tore at my body, I felt no pain. Even when my frostbitten toes began to rot and ooze with pus, it did not hurt. Nothing could have hurt more than...

The Poet Who Asked for Forgiveness

At its essence, the purpose of North Korean literature is to praise the Korean Workers’ Party. While South Korean poetry deals with topics such as love or life, North Korean poetry refers only to Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un, constantly reinventing itself as a mechanism of hymnal thought-control. In North Korea, whatever literary genius poets may possess, ignoring Party ideology in their work is a certain path to being mentally or physically broken by the state. This...

Pillow

Both the seller And the buyer Have nothing to offer but themselves In Pyongyang’s marketplace The filters of cigarette butts Provided cotton for this blanket on display “Face-wash for sale!” The ladies shout And clutch at passers by With nothing to offer but a bowl of water For one face-wash The traders sit here To sell their poverty The reasons for their poverty Are on display In every street In every alley On the dark posters Of murderous intent:...

The Arduous March

We stayed in the mountain village up until we left the North. Before that, when we had been living in the farming village, we couldn’t afford to visit our relatives in China. But after a few years in our new location, we started applying for temporary passports so we could travel back and forth across the border. With both my father and mother making trips to China, our family seemed to be among the better off in the village. My father, who traveled frequently to procure materials...

A Rice Story

1 As harvest season begins, the field slowly reveals its bare body. The thousand-year-old promise is that you reap what you sow. The land of promise stretches out behind the footprints of man. Winds blow. Snow falls. Holding the aching cold of ice in its breast, it passes the long tunnel of summer, spewing pain and nourishment. Then, in silence, it offers up teardrops of rice.  2 Here in Seoul, there are people who make a fuss about saving rice from death. I don’t...

A Blackened Land

So many miracles have happened to me in the last few months. I left behind my beloved homeland where I was born and raised and made my way through hell, just under the nose of the grim reaper. Today, I enter through the gates of heaven. The Republic of Korea! This is heaven. When the gates of this paradise open wide—a heaven once glimpsed only in fairy tales—that beautiful world I so ardently longed for will spread out before me. I will no longer be forced to struggle against...

After the Gunshot

Dark clouds were scattered low and despondent in the sky, loitering above the creeping flow of the river. As it always had, the Aprok River echoed through the deep ravine. The water was rising after a sudden, unseasonable squall, and seemed massive under the gleaming moon. A loud gunshot sounded not far away. At the noise, a night bird dozing in the leaves of a willow tree fluttered its wings and shot, startled, into the sky. At the same time, a young man dressed in black...

Beauty

I grew up in a harbor town by Korea’s east coast where the hill and sea meet. Back then, the town was colorless and empty of any striking buildings. Come winter, it made for a dreary sight, cloaked in a dark, solid color. Serving as a fishing port, a military port, and a seaport for coal and cement, the town was often enveloped in a suffocating haze of coal ash and cement dust scattered by the sea winds. In the summer, rain fell ceaselessly over the rotting smell of fish guts. Then...

Marilyn Monroe and Lady Gaga’s Korea, and Korean Literature

Marilyn Monroe came to South Korea in February of 1954. While honeymooning in Tokyo with Joe DiMaggio, she had boarded a military plane and was en route to Seoul even before the marriage was fully consummated. At the airport, she was swarmed by hundreds of GIs who had been awaiting her arrival. When she came down the gangway, Monroe was dressed in a flight suit. Reporters noted that “half of the buttons on the top were undone, offering tantalizing glimpses of her chest, which got...

The Chef’s Nail

If only she had not misread “The Chef's Mail” as “The Chef's Nail,” none of this ever would have happened. It all began a few months ago, at the moment Jung misread that sign hanging outside a shop. When she saw the sign reading “The Chef's Nail” from a distance, she took another look at the note on her cellphone. She had thought that the client was a restaurant, but upon seeing the sign she was momentarily confused as to what sort of business...
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