the smell of the eyes of a beast

Two poems by Kim Kyung Ju, translated by Jake Levine and Jung Hi-Yeon.

김경주Kim Kyung Ju is a poet, playwright, essayist, and conceptual multi-media artist. He is also an accomplished translator. His versatility and breadth as a writer extends to pornographic novels and ghost written autobiographies. Not yet 40, he is considered to be one of Korea’s most influential and popular young writers. The poems found here are from his debut collection, I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World. Published originally in 2003, the collection has gone on to sell more than 10,000 copies and is one of the most successful books of contemporary Korean poetry.

정희연 (1)jake headshotThese poems are representative of KKJ’s use of the surreal gesture in order to approach topics of self negation and spiritual resurrection. His poems embody a poetic state, rather than coming from a particular place in the world. In “State of Absence,” the speaker embodies fragmented narratives like “time filling an empty room.” Like “Braille,” images stack like a map he uses to navigate the world. Before becoming a writer, Kim studied philosophy at Sogang University. His interests in contemporary and 20th century philosophy ring heavy throughout his work. But more importantly, instead of discussing obvious French influences, it is necessary to note how recent translations of contemporary Korean poetry are reshaping preconceived ideas people have about Asian literature. KKJ’s use of the mythical, grotesque, fable, drama, and other transgressive and hybrid modes represent the frenetic psychological and spiritual state of contemporary life in Korea—a life and culture which is often represented as simplified and hollow by popular and mainstream media.  

—Jake Levine 



by Kim Kyung Ju


물소리를 듣고 겨울을 예감하는 새들의 장기는 깊다 젖은 새가 지나갔던 바람의 냄새를 맡다가 나는 약간의 체온이 더 필요했다 인간이 해안선(海岸線)을 따라 걸으며 밤의 물들이 말아 올리는 채색이 된다 밤들이 바람을 버리고 우수수 떨어진다 풀 속에 누워 있던 짐승의 눈알 냄새가 번져온다 빛이 벗기고 간 갈대의 뼈들이 차다 구름은 새벽이면 비명보다 투명한 색으로 뜬다 그러나 우수의 사각(四角)에서 신경은 생의 속도로 흐르는 법이 없다 수년이 흐른 뒤에도 저 풀들은 불보다 더 짙은 바람의 수분을 태우며 마음을 유산해버리곤 했을 것이다 그때 가만히 타버린 몇 장의 바람과 그늘들을 주워 올리며 나는 풀에게 흉터를 남기는 것은 바람이 아니라 제 속의 열이라는 것을 알게 되리라 점점 색을 띠며 눈보라 몰려온다 눈의 켜켜마다 바람의 분진(紛塵)들이 매달려 있다 어떤 정신이 저 몸에 불탄 발바닥 하나 올려놓을 수 있을까 새들이 손금처럼 널린 하늘, 무엇을 물은 것인가 나 잠들 곳을 찾지 못해 공중에서 잠든 바람의 늑막까지 차오르는 눈[雪]을 본다 겨울 열매 속의 시원한 물소리를 듣는다 눈[眼] 속의.

White Night

by Kim Kyung Ju

listening to the sound of water, having the premonition of winter, the insides of birds run deep /

while I smelled out the wind, the wet birds came and went in and I needed more heat in my body /

humans walking along the shore become the color that the water of night rolls up / night throws

away the wind, night rustles / the smell of the eyes of a beast that lies inside the grass aspirates / the

light peeled the reeds and its bones are cold / at dawn the cloud rises more transparent than a

scream / our nerves don’t flow like the speed of life inside a perfect square / after several years

passed on the grass / burning the moisture on the wind proved heavier than fire / and the grass

miscarried its heart / just then I quietly pick up the shadow of some wind that burnt / I will know it

is not the wind that leaves the scar in the grass but the fever inside myself / little by little / the color

of the coming snowstorm appears / hanging in every snowflake are flecks of wind / what mind

would put down one burnt foot on that body ? / the sky is split with birds like lines in the palm—

so what is the question then? / I can’t find a place to sleep and I witness the snow filling up the

ribcage of the wind sleeping in air / I hear the sound of cool water inside eyes, inside winter fruit

translated from Korean by Jake Levine & Jung Hi-Yeon


by Kim Kyung Ju


말하자면 귀뚜라미 눈썹만 한 비들이 내린다 오래 비워둔 방 안에서 저 혼자 울리는 전화 수신음 같은 것이 지금 내 영혼이다 예컨대 그 소리가 여우비, 는개비 내리는 몇십 년 전 어느 식민지의 추적추적한 처형장에서 누군가 이쪽으로 걸어두고 바닥에 내려놓은 수화기를 통해 흘러나오는 댕강댕강 목 잘리는 소리인지 죽기 전 하늘을 노려보는 그 흰 눈깔들에 빗물이 번지는 소리가 들려오는 것인지 아니면 카자흐스탄에 간 친구가 설원에서 자전거를 배우다가 무릎이 깨져 울면서 내게 1541을 연방연방 보내는 소리인지 아무튼 나 없는 빈방에서 나오는 그 시간이 지금 내 영혼이다 나는 지금 이 세상에 없는 계절이다 충혈된 빗방울이 창문에 눈알처럼 매달려 빈방을 바라본다 창문은 이승에 잠시 놓인 시간이지만 이승에 영원히 없는 공간이다 말하자면 내 안의 인류(人類)들은 그곳을 지나다녔다 헌혈 버스 안에서 비에 젖은 예수가 마른 팔목을 걷고 있다 누워서 수혈을 하며 운다 내가 너희를 버리지 않았나니 너희는 평생 내 안에 갇혀 있을 것이다 간호사들이 긴 꼬리를 감추며 말한다 울지 마세요 당신은 너무 마르셨군요 요즘은 사람들의 핏줄이 잘 보이지 않아요 우산을 길에 버리고 고개를 숙인 채 예수는 빗속을 떨면서 걸어간다 죽은 자들이 다가와 우산을 씌워준다 곧 홍수가 나겠어요 성(成)으로 돌아가고 있지 못하고 있군요 나는 나의 성(星)을 잃어버렸네 성(性)을 중얼거리는 것은 우리들도 마찬가지예요 자신을 기억해내려는 그들은 비 맞으며 자신의 집으로 저벅저벅 문상 간다 생전에 신던 신발을 들고 운다 발광(發光)한다 산에 핀 산꽃이 알토끼의 혀 속에서 녹는다 돌 위에 하늘의 경야(經夜)가 떨어진다 예수가 내 방의 창문 앞에 와서 젖은 손톱을 들어 유리를 긁는다 성혈이 얼굴에 흘러내린다 나는 돌아온다 말하자면 이 문장들은 生을 버리고 성(聲)의 세계로 간 맹인이 드나드는 점자들이다

State of Absence

by Kim Kyung Ju


You could say rain the same size as a cricket’s eye drops. Inside a vacant room now my soul is a ring tone ringing alone for a long time. That sound, for instance, a sun-shower, gentle rain falling in a colony several years back, getting feet stuck in the mud of the executioner’s square, maybe that sound is someone here vibrating on the floor from the phone I dropped, the chop chop hacking a man’s throat, or maybe that sound is listening to rain blur the whites of a man’s eyes that say motherfucker to the sky just before death strikes, or maybe it is a friend in Kazakhstan learning to ride a bike in the frozen waste, crying with scraped knees over collect calls ringing continuously, continually here— in any case, I am a season that does not exist in the world and my soul is time filling this empty room. Peering into the empty room, bloodshot raindrops like hanging eyeballs in the window. The window is time placing a moment into this life, but in this life a window is forever absent space. You could say that inside myself humankind has passed by. Inside a blood donation bus, Jesus wet with rain pulls up a poor man’s sleeves and reveals his thin wrists. Lying down and giving blood, he weeps. Jesus says, I didn’t refuse you. You shall be locked within me my whole life. The nurses nearby hide their long tails and say don’t cry. You are too thin. These days people’s veins are hard to stick. Throwing his umbrella in the road and bowing his head as he crosses the street, Jesus shivers in the rain. Dead men approach him and offer an umbrella. The flood will come. To the palace you cannot return. But I lost my star. Murmuring, both genders are the same as us. Trying to remember themselves, they offer their condolences. Receiving the rain, to their houses they clump their feet. They grab and lift the shoes they wore in life and cry. Mountain flowers blooming on the mountain melt on the tongue of a rabbit hatched from an egg. On the stone, the sky’s vigil falls. Jesus appears outside the window of my bedroom. His wet nails scratch the pane of glass. The blood of Christ pours down his face. I return. Casting life away, the blind man gone to the world of sound. Coming and going, these sentences are like Braille.

translated from Korean by Jake Levine