Written by Kim Hyesoon 
Translated by Don Mee Choi
Illustrated by Lauren Rolwing
Read by Joyelle McSweeney 

Published 8/2/2012

Mrs. Elephant’s Reply

Art by Lauren Rolwing

In reply to the letter you sent
I’m sending an elephant 
How deep its hatred must be
if an arm comes out
of the forehead between the eyes
and wildly rolls up things
like tree trunks 

and grinds with its millstone molars
the scary laughs and swallows them
and like a tank crushes everything it stomps on
and rolls up anything that moves

How deep its despair must be
if the grey pillows that hold up the elephant’s head
for days on end receiving its tears
get stuck to the ears and flap about
In reply to the letter you sent
I’m sending an elephant
that is flapping its two pillows
annoyed by the arrows of rumor
flying in from all directions
Every time the elephant’s foot lands
words are erased indiscriminately 

How long must it wait again holding its breath
till the ivory of immortality suddenly
shoots out of its tightly shut lips 
Holes are made in the forest of words 

Now I’ll tear up the letter stained by teardrops
and open the window to let out the grey smoke
that filled up the room hard like an elephant 
Ah, but how can I go out into the streets with this sharp ivory
hanging from my mouth?

Princess Naklang

Art by Lauren Rolwing

Art by Lauren Rolwing

She arrives. Beating the drum boom boom, she arrives. She arrives pounding the eardrums of the sky. The gate crumbles by itself—maybe she’s carrying thunder in her arms. She arrives. Every step she takes, her heart comes closer to me. My heart beats boom boom. I’ll tear Father’s thick eardrums and go to him. It feels as if I’m stretched out on the sea. She closes the curtain, cuts off the brainwave, smashes a noisy TV station with a hammer. Blood spreads on the pillow. All my cells want to leave me. My heart splits in half like a bolt of lightening. I hurt like the ground hit by a thunderbolt. She arrives. Into my body, she arrives. She’s been walking for seven hours straight. The guard will awaken. Ah! Father’s army will awaken, too. The moon is like a drum tightly pulled, she pounds on the sky bam bam. She arrives. Beating the eye of a typhoon, she arrives. I stretch my body flat on the ground to pave her way. The hooves of the horses step across my body. Her sharp knife flashes inside my eyes. Fighter jets are deployed from somewhere. A Pacific fleet from a distant place is destroyed. The TV station explodes. The palace wells overflow. Spring water gushes from her eyes. Black stars pour down like rain. Water rats gnaw the inside of her head. She arrives. Father’s palace sinks into the ground and a pond shoots up from beneath. A weeping willow shakes insanely. Carrying thunder and lightening in her arms, she arrives. The soldiers inside me are deployed every time Father’s drum beats. Inside me, the sea of knives flows shouting, gushing like a brook. She calls me. Her painful bare feet pound on my empty heart. The well inside me floods. Oh, Father! I’ll tear the drum and meet him. She arrives, crying.

Listen to this poem:

Kim, Hyesoon is one of the most prominent contemporary poets of South Korea. She lives in Seoul and teaches creative writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts. Kim was one of the first few women to be published in the literary journal, Munhak kwa jisông [Literature and Intellect]. During the 1970-80s, this journal and Ch’angjak kwa pip’yông [Creation and Criticism] were the two leaders of the intellectual and literary movement against the US-backed military dictatorships. Kim’s poetry gained prominence from the late 1990s. She was the first woman to receive prestigious awards such as Kim Su-yông Literary Prize and Midang Poetry Prize. Kim’s poetry in translation can be found in When the Plug Gets Unplugged (Tinfish, 2005), Anxiety of Words (Zephyr, 2006), Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers (Action Books, 2008), All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (Action Books, 2011), and Princess Abandoned (Tinfish, 2012). (Updated Jul. 2012)

Choi, Don Mee is the author of The Morning News is Exciting (Action Books, 2010). She has received a Whiting Writers Award in 2011. She lives in Seattle and translates contemporary Korean women’s poetry. (Updated Jul. 2012)

In many ways, illustrator Lauren Rolwing embodies her art. Her uncluttered compositions hold an undercurrent of playfulness and whimsy beneath their intelligent designs. She uses various techniques to produce her works: from the most traditional such as paper cuttings, gouache, graphite, oils, and acrylic inks, to the more modern computer programs. Rolwing has received numerous international awards in the areas of poster design and childrens’ book illustration, and has served on the jury board in several international poster competitions. (Updated Aug. 2012)

Joyelle McSweeney's new book, Percussion Grenade, is now available. She is an editor of Action Books, which has published Kim Hyesoon's books All the Garbage of the World, Unite! and Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers, both in English translation by Don Mee Choi, as well as Don Mee Choi's debut book, The Morning News Is Exciting. She teaches at the University of Notre Dame.