Lee Seong-Bok's poems were published in Issue 12 of the Marlboro Review

about rice

Lee Seong-Bok

translated by Hye-jin Juhn and George Sidney


one day, rice says to me
"well, both you and me..."
without finishing, it says
"what's important is the skin of the apple,
the letter you tore up,
curses, a yawn    no, that's not
what it is    what's really important is eating rice before you climb the glacier."
rice, have you ever been hungry?


we make cakes with rice
we make wine with rice
we make cookies with rice
we make love with rice    but we can't make a lover with rice
we get our energy from rice    we use our energy, we get tired
we make fatigue with rice, and pessimism, and academicism
we make bedbugs, blackguards, night watchmen, and whores
we make paradise, whorehouses, dreams, and toilets    I'm
tired    I'm tired    I'm very tired
we make pain with rice    we make poems with rice    we make
wings for migratory birds
with rice    we have orgasms with rice    we feel the sting of conscience
with rice    we make complaints, and yawns with rice    life is a bad
dream, a bad dream, a bad
rice ate me and made our times morbid    rice ate me, and made
    pity, tears, and eloquence    but
rice can't make hope because rice is the law    the national law    oh,
    rice, my mother's face when she was young


Lee Seong-Bok

translated by Hye-jin Juhn and George Sidney

on Christmas, I blew my nose all day    no girl friend
called    I dialed anybody's number    I was told she
wasn't home    nobody's here    nobody's here    without
somebody, there is no death    my voice was wavering
like a red geranium...  I longed to see my girl friend, who didn't live
anywhere  I longed to see her shoes powdered with snow  on Christmas
I took two naps in one I was peeling off her clothes
"ooh no, I don't want to  oh no, I shouldn't"    in the other I was burying
    her naked body
at each spadeful of dirt she laughed with pleasure    on Christmas
long ago I read Pavese's poems    in 1950 he killed
himself    1950?    where did I meet him?  his poems are
really good  he had to kill himself  the poems were too good   on Christmas
Pavese was dying slowly in my arms  I was alive
but I was bored, I was bored and I longed to see my girl friend who didn't
    live anywhere
a kiss!    I wanted her lips to mark
my neck...  Pavese was dying slowly in my arms  I was
a prostitute in Turin, his hometown, I was the room in the boarding house
    where he died  I was
alive and he was dying and nobody was born

Lee Seong-Bok's books include When Does a Rolling Stone Awaken (1980) and South Sea & Gold Mountain (1986) from which the translations here are taken, as well as The End of Summer (1990), Memories of a Holy Tree (1993), and Songs That Must Be Sung (1993). He has a PhD in French Literature from Seoul National University and teaches creative writing at Keimyung University in the city of Taegu.

Hye-jin Juhn is a Korean citizen who has been resident in the United States for three years while she completed an MFA at the University of Arizona. She has published short stories in The Baltimore Review and The Chaffin Journal. In 1999 her translation of Lee Seong-Bok took top honors in the annual Korea Times Modern Korean Literature competition.

George Sidney holds a PhD in American Studies, which he taught for some years at Korean Universities as a Senior Fulbright scholar. His published work includes critical pieces on Faulkner and the novels For the Love of Dying (Wm Morrow & Co.) and Memories of a Lost Love (a joint project done with Korean novelists Ahn Jung Hyo and published in Korea in the literary journal Hyundae Munhak). He now lives in Seattle.

Copyright ©2002 Lee Seong-Bok, Hye-jin Juhn and George Sidney

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