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from the May 2013 issue

A Rice Story

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. 

Here in Seoul, there are people who make a fuss about saving rice from death. I don’t understand why rice must survive ahead of those who are crawling toward death.

The greens that have been dried for three days, the roots of trees gnawed and abandoned by beasts in the mountains, and one small sack of barley—mixed together on the stove. Food bartered for your sister’s chastity. Rub your stinging eyes, make sure the smoke rises into the night. So what if I’m a father who’s let his children starve? I’ve shaken hands with this enemy, life, just to stay alive, to stay alive. Facing those who grip their spoons and wait by empty bowls, Seoul is left with too much rice.

This was written during the “Let’s eat more rice” campaign in South Korea. People were urged to consume more locally produced rice as there was too much of it to keep.

© Kim Sung-min. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2013 by Shirley Lee. All rights reserved.

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