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from the May 2014 issue

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 healthy children
gone on ahead of us.

All through the last ten days,
more than ten days,
mothers have kept calling their children’s names,
losing their minds,
asking that they should still be alive, for mercy’s sake,
come rising like Sim Cheong in a lotus bud,
while fathers kept standing then sitting,
crying out to the sea off Jindo.

A floodtide of sorrow has risen 
in every corner of this country,
everyone feeling indignant, fists clenched.
Not only anger,
not only sorrow, but a mingled clot of black blood
is rolling inside every breast.

Did you say country? 
What kind of country is this?
We have realized just how vulnerable
what we call humanity or what we call justice
really is in a country like this.
Number one in the world in such and such?
It was outside number one in its suicide rate.
Number ten in the world in such and such?
It was beyond number ten in despair.
Did you say society? 
What kind of society is this?
There is not one alley left anywhere 
where people really live together.
Did you say trust? 
What trust do we have?
The traces of the ancient friendship 
in which we gladly trusted each other
have disappeared from every sloping road.

Often it’s said there’s nothing public,
only privacy in this country.
Not so.
There is no privacy, either.
Rightly founded privacy alone can bring forth what is public.
Sacred privacy is all rotten now.
Now is an age of death in which
power is seized and wealth is gained 
by such privacy.

Again today they sit facing the southern sea.
No matter how many times they beat on the ground with their hands
all they have are bruised, bleeding palms.
They will never come running, their faces bright.
However, they still gaze out at the blank morning sea, 
that was awake all night.

How could it just be the parents alone?
All the people, old and young,
who are like the grass and trees of this country,
have had their eyes fixed on the live news
from the moment that overloaded hull began to tilt.
We have spent days in lamentation,
since the boat was submerged
with only a tip of the keel left visible,
watching as all the dishonesty and corruption of this country 
and our lives were revealed one by one.

Faced with a disaster that’s like a betrayal,
like robbery,
we have wondered if this country is truly a country.
Faced with the victims these merciless, barbaric acts have made,
we have wondered
whether this society could ever have clean days.

We have repented, asking how much each human being
has been human for other human beings.
We had to be ignorant, and also had to know,
why there are words such as soul
and conscience.

My beloved child!
My beloved child!
My beloved child!
Flowers! Greenings!

Crying out thus, we should go plunging in,
go back to zero,
start again, from one, from two.
You, I, and
our country, everything,
should try to make the very first step again.

What has been paralyzed by greed for rapid growth,
what has made us crazy by unlimited competition,
what has become intoxicated by generations in power
should be got rid of one by one, through and through,
with the pain of writing on our bones
and of having our flesh torn off.
There should be glory for tens of thousands
instead of banquets for just one or ten.

We should not forget this incident,
hammering a nail into it.
It should not be something to be buried
by this autumn or by next year’s spring.

We should mourn it for a hundred years.
We must summon up
those dead flowers, those young greenings,
the children of our bitter tears, against oblivion.
But now,
ah, this country is wealthy with crying and wailing.
This country is wealthy with anger.

My beloved child!
My beloved child!
Our beloved children! 

© 2014 by Ko Un. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Brother Anthony of Taizé and Lee Sang-Wha. All rights reserved.

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