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from the November 2005 issue

Diary of the Fat Sofa

I got up early in the morning, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and sat at the table.
(Not true. To be honest, when I got up late this morning and sat at the table, my wife asked me to brush my teeth and wash my face before coming to the table.
So I brushed my teeth, washed up, and sat at the table.)
Because there was a bowl of reheated soup before me
I yawned long and hard even though it was morning,
like an animal in the zoo opening its lower jaw
without a noise, closing its ugly eyes.

Thus began another day for me.
So tired of eating, but once I started to eat I wanted to eat.
That animal might have experienced the same thing: the recollection of life
is all that keeps me alive now.
I'm so comfortable I'm miserable. I got up in the morning, brushed my teeth,
washed my face, sat at the table, ate breakfast,
rinsed out my mouth (my wife loathes the sound of me rinsing out the bits of food stuck between my teeth when I move my cheeks as if to gargle.
She warned me that I was getting vulgar.)
I sat down on the sofa.
But, sofa!
That word reminds me of "soap" or "soft"
for no reason, and a "bubble chair."
This chair-like sofa, which looks like a fertile woman from the Paleolithic age
with huge breasts, is in fact covered with imitation leather.
Murmuring to myself, "Oh, sofa, my Mommy" with an English accent,
and shrugging my shoulders like a Yankee,
I sat down on the sofa.

This morning, I got up, washed my face, ate breakfast, and sat down on the sofa.
From the sofa, the living room looks like a stage for a foreign drama:
an imitation leather sofa in the center, the clock on the wall showing 9 A.M.,
in the back a still life drawn after Cezanne, a TV set,
a dragon tree near the window, the awkward book shelf
on which lie three clothbound volumes of Marx's Capital (Moscow: Progress Press), the books I brought in to display but never read, and the aquarium bubbling continuously.
But there is no tragedy worth translating on this stage.
Only a man got up, washed, ate, and sat down on the sofa in the morning:
a man who has grown so fat you can't identify him from old photos,
a man who will not lift a finger,
whose wife now says even his mouth smells bad.
When this man sits vacantly on the sofa and yawns, like the animal in the zoo,
and blinks away tears from his eyes,
and his wife enters stage left (from the kitchen) to sit beside him
stroking his chin and telling him to shave,
he hugs her and calls her "Mommy."

When his wife, who with better luck might have become a pianist, comes to him
and strokes me before she leaves to give a piano lesson, I feel good.
When my wife gives a haircut to the man on the sofa
and sneaks up on him during his nap to trim my toenails,
or when she lays his head on her knee to clean my ears, I'm happy.
When she brings him green vegetable juice in the morning and then wipes his mouth,
I watch her with a smile.
I wish she would help him get up and bathe him,
and serve me food and clean up my shit.
I'd like to entrust the rest of his life to her.
I'd like to be a human vegetable who breathes only through his nose
and lies still, blinking earnest eyes, and then she divines his thought and does it for him.
The dragon tree needs sunshine every now and then, and so she has to raise the blinds,
she can sympathize with it but can't take responsibility for it. I don't want
to leave this hospital room.

I got up, washed my face, ate, and sat on the sofa,
and stayed home alone all day long, because my wife went out.
Sinking into the sofa, which resembles an old fat Stone Age mother,
I listened in silence to the clock on the wall gnawing at what remains of my life.
Though too much of my spare time has dropped like the dung of silk worms,
I accept this too as life. I won't meddle with it.
Nothing is harder to endure than the spectacle of a man becoming a comic figure;
wu-wei will thus be my style for enduring the rest of my life.
It's also a pity when a man becomes a cartoon figure;
however humiliating it is to acknowledge
he has lived in vain into his forties,
the only way to redeem such a life is
to accept the fact that I am nothing.
It's a little hard to accept this,
but isn't an idler better than the malice
of the people who plot revenge against the world, however meager that may be!
I enjoyed myself in style all day long on the sofa.
Even as the lamenting clock spreads its long and short hands
and makes the afternoon as splendid as a peacock standing in the light,
and the silk worms who nibbled at the innocent time (in which I didn't lift a hand)
prepare another round of life,
and two Sumatras, like the fossils of tropical fish, lined up to thrust themselves
into my face as I gazed vacantly into the aquarium,
I feel the aerorium in which I was placed.
I yawn again like the fish
and the MBC News Desk is showing the former naval chief in black Ray Bans
posing for photographers in front of the Public Prosecutors Office.

Shouting "Oh my sofa, oh my Mommy," I sprang from the sofa
when my wife returned. (She entered stage right,
holding a plastic bag of food from the grocery store).
Today I ate dinner, watched TV, and slept.
Before I went to sleep, I brushed my teeth because my wife asked me to.
I must mention that my wife smiled sadly at me
when I posed in front of the bathroom like the former naval chief.
Oh, yeah, it was mostly sunny; the high in Seoul and the central region was 28C.
When I open the door to the master bedroom, lights go out on the stage.
A man shouts in the darkness: "Can you hear the sound of the wind
blowing across the corn field?" The river below the fifteen-story building,
I didn't know until now that the river shines at night like a long plastic strip.
Miserable aerorium dwellers, goodbye, bye-bye!

For the next poem in this sequence, click here.

Read more from the November 2005 issue
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