sporklet 14

Lee Young-ju

The Neighborhood of Daebang
Translated by Jae Kim

I used to fall asleep underneath the stairs. A list for the evening. It might be that we’re clutching each other’s hearts in a place we can’t see. Why do you look away? Been a while since we forgot each other’s faces. The simmering miso soup. I stared at the smudge on the earthenware after scooping everything into the soup. Mother. Burnt ashes. Sweet smoke was beginning to leak out into the corridor. Mother washed her hair on the anniversary of the day I disappeared. She dipped her hair into her tears in the basin. The list is soaked with smells. A glance at the window between sleep and life. The punishment that is the evening, I wrote on the wall, and thought about my ailment. Wearing my parka inside out, I wondered how I should drop and roll. Mother, you might dissolve into the wind like ashes, seeing how beautiful I am. My ailment flowed toward a place I was trying to get to, the road beyond the stairs, beyond the evening, where clenched teeth melted away. My ailment is more like an ailment because it’s nothing. A dim playground. I preferred ruin of the kind in which shards of glass pierced the bottoms of my feet. The stairs were ailing because mysterious carcasses have stiffened and formed a secret pattern. Why was the evening invented? The skeleton in the cupboard, as in the European saying, was moving on to another ailment. Tears falling like the tears from your wet hair. Mother, it was nice there.

Summer Vacation
Translated by Jae Kim

On the first night of the vacation stories abound. That moment when I meet eyes with myself, the one who, next to my sleeping self, is laughing with her mouth torn open. Something good must have happened, since I’m laughing. Is this what it means to tell ghost stories in the summer? Falling asleep again, I run my fingers over my torn lips. Did I laugh too much? I run my fingers over the mime’s lips. To be with the self while looking at the self. To be able to see the faceless self. We eat omelets and share joyful stories. This cypress table is supposed to absorb moisture very well, so it’s the perfect place for sharing lies. We sweat our bile. Insects can’t climb onto the cypress table. Why do you insist on touching the dark spots? When you watched me feel my chest, all around my heart, I laughed. According to Pascal, it is tragic that the soul gazing upon the self exists together with the self. You laughed, too. If I can fall asleep, I should be able to throw myself away. You came here to take a walk. You went deep into the mountains. The reason time is falling apart is because we’re burning. It’s a night of eating pork ribs and writing kind words of condolence. The lip of the forest is supposed to open when it’s time to erase the self. To sweat our bile, we lower our heads. On the plate is a pile of cooled bones. There are many caterpillars around me, squirming. I plan to sit down and read this letter of condolence alone.

Lee Young-ju is the author of the poetry collections You Arrived in the Season of Perennial Summer (2020), Keep No Record of Love (2019), Cold Candies (2014), Sister (2010), andThe Hundred-and-Eighth Man (2005). She lives in Seoul, South Korea.


Jae Kim is a writer and a translator of Korean poetry. His work has recently appeared in Conjunctions, Guernica, NOON, and Action Books’ Poetry in Action series. His translation of a collection of Lee Young-ju’s poems is forthcoming from Black Ocean in 2021.