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from the September 2019 issue


"Pillow" is a poem by 2019 Poems in Translation Contest winner Lee Young-ju, translated into English by Jae Kim.

Listen to Lee Young-ju read her poem "Pillow" in the original Korean.

Listen to Jae Kim read the English translation of Lee Young-ju's "Pillow."

Down in this sewer, have I become my friend? By the manmade waters where my school principal killed himself, geese cried. On the other side of the barbed-wire fence is a large cloudchimney. I put on a straw hat I picked up in the gutters.

When the clouds bent over, the geese cackled their beaks wide-open. The cry of the machine as it pushed the clouds through the conveyor into the chimney. Where are the better suicides? 

My father built his house on the waters’ edge, and every day he packed the clouds in, spun the machine. Those who wanted to sleep bought Father’s pillow. All night, eyes peeled, I bent my body and straightened my body, over and over. Each time my bones popped, snapped, I escaped through the chimney. I thought about what kind of crying to do.

Near sundown, I urged him, let’s go where there’s a crowd, but in the machine the geese were bleeding. For a good night’s sleep we need wet feathers, said Father. I sucked on my lips while counting the tags on the pillows. I believe the essence of those who died better deaths must go to the sewer, where innumerable sleeps flow.

When spinning the cotton machinery, I wore my hat. White feathers rose from the waters where those who killed themselves lay facedown. I took my hand, stepped on the feathers and went to school in the mornings. Waddling, I forged ahead.

"Pillow"  © Lee Young-ju. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Jae Kim. All rights reserved.

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