Scale and Stairs (2009)

The poems of Heeduck Ra are charged with a friction between image and idea, sound and sense. She glimpses an arc, which may light a path from the visible world to the invisible. Her work occupies the ever-shifting border region between what we know and what we do not know, a zone in which to apprehend the world anew.

Heeduck Ra is considered one of the best Korean writers. The collection is translated by Christopher Merrill.

Some excerpts follow:

Sometimes Spring Visits Me, and

for a long time my words haven’t flown to you.

As soon as words spill out of my mouth,
they freeze in the sky
as a spider’s web hardens when it touches air.

Only rumors of silence run rampant,
icy patches of words laid here and there.

Sometimes spring visits me—
words bask in the sun,
thaw in the warm water,
and begin to sound. Like haze,
sap-filled words call for other words.

Please,
forgive my rambling.


Vanishing Palm

First he opened a white lotus flower
and waved his empty green palm.
Then he held up a bowl of boiled lotus rice.
Now his withered wrist is broken
and tucked upside down.
The lake with its breast pierced by many spears
is sinking like a ship.

What’s he doing down there?
I try to speak to him, to hold his hand,
but I can’t see him anywhere.
He never lifts his head, picking up the fallen
grains underfoot and planting them in the mud.

If I come back in a hundred years,
will he treat me to a bowl of boiled lotus rice,
and if I come back sooner will he let me hold his empty hand,
and if I come back even sooner will he let me see the white flower?

If only I could return to Hoisan…


The Smoke of My Breath

I thought it was a cloud—the shadow of smoke
floating above my head.
I could still feel its warmth
as it drifted down to touch the waist
of the magnolia, then blew away.
And when I tried to touch those closed lips,
the smoke’s shadow lay on my hand, above the flower bud.
Ah, whose kiss this is!