Kim Hyesoon

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Kim Hyesoon, born in 1955, is one of the most prominent and influential contemporary poets of South Korea. She was the first woman 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! (Bloodaxe Books, 2014) and Poor Love Machine (Action Books, 2016).



By the River of Formalin   

Day Thirty-Three

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 till 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

and soft

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 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?

”By the River of Formalin: Day Thirty-Three” by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi, from AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DEATH, copyright © 2016 by Kim Hyesoon. Copyright © 2018 by Don Mee Choi. Use by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.