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
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
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?