Born in Seoul, South Korea, Don Mee Choi is the author of The Morning News Is Exciting (2010) and Hardly War (Wave Books). She has received a Whiting Award, Lannan Literary Fellowship, Lucien Stryk Translation Prize, and the 2019 DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Fellowship.
Kim Hyesoon, born in 1955, is one of the most prominent and influential contemporary poets of South Korea. She was the first female poet to receive the prestigious Kim Su-yong and Midang awards, and has been translated into Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish. Her most recent books include I’m OK, I’m Pig! (2014), and Poor Love Machine (2016).
“In the grievous wake of the Sewol Ferry incident of 2014, the Korean poet Kim Hyesoon composed a cycle of forty-nine poems – one for each day the dead must await reincarnation – to produce a harrowing work of shock, outrage, and veneration for the children lost to this disaster. Through Don Mee Choi’s extraordinary translations, we hear the clamorous registers of Kim’s art – a transnational collision of shamanism, Modernism, and feminism – yield ‘a low note no one has ever sung before.’ That otherworldly tone may sound like life itself, the poet sings, ‘for even death can’t enter this deep inside me.’”
Don Mee Choi and Kim Hyesoon read By the River of Formalin / DAY THIRTY-THREE
By the River of Formalin
Brain inside the test tube is still alive
Looks like it’s writing poetry
It’s plunging into a blurry image
It’s opening the gate to grandparents’ house like a wind
The instant it runs into the embrace of dead grandmother
Its missing eyes open
Its missing body hallucinates a black stick whacking its head
Brain inside the test tube is hurting
You’re outside of you
Your outside hurts
Missing toes hurt
Scattered rooms hurt. Your heart hurts
Brain inside the test tube scratches its body all over with its ten fingers
Scratches until the skin breaks
Brain inside the test tube takes off
It rides the subway, rides the bus, takes a cab
and exits the test tube
It departs swaying
like a head inside the plastic bag of a serial killer
I want to tell you, tell you everything
but my mouth stays shut
my hands shake
where did my shoes go?
Roots of the dark-blue night descend into the test tube
Everyone has left the lab
Brain inside the test tube mutters
Whitest monster inside me
has a blue nightdress on
You’re transparent like water
but you’re fatal like the blue saliva of a poisonous snake
Brain inside the test tube is a bystander’s brain, a survivor’s brain
Brain inside the test tube always wants to bang its head against the wall and weep
Brain submerged in a formalin river sways back and forth
An obscure place like this poem
An ambiguous place like this poem
A disinfected place like this poem
Brain inside the test tube puts on its formalin hat and thinks intently
Why does my outside always hurt?
Why do my missing feet hurt?
Why does the riverbed that props up my feet crumble?
Someone who has set himself on fire stands at the rail of a bridge
Brain inside the test tube is screaming
Brain inside the test tube has gone mad
What am I to do?
What can I do to forget all this?
From Autobiography of Death by Don Mee Choi, translated from the Korean by Kim Hyesoon
Copyright © 2016 by Kim Hyesoon
Copyright © 2018 by Don Mee Choi
More about Don Mee Choi and Kim Hyesoon
The following are links to other Web sites with information about translator Don Mee Choi and poet Kim Hyesoon. (Note: All links to external Web sites open in a new browser window.)
- Don Mee Choi (official web site)
- Don Mee Choi profile (Poetry Foundation)
- Disobeying History with Don Mee Choi (BOMB Magazine)
- A Conversation with Don Mee Choi (Lantern Review)
- Kim Hyesoon profile (Poetry Foundation)
- The Sick World of Kim Hyesoon (Hyperallergic)
- Kim Hyesoon: The Female Grotesque (Guernica)
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