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A Poet Sent Me Back to Korea

December 26, 2011

I spent the month of October, 2011 in Tuscany, Italy, living a life of solitude in meditation.  (I will write about this experience later.)  There I started reading poems every day.

Back in our apartment in New York, I received a book, Stars: What Guides Their Lives, a collection of interviews by a writer/filmmaker in South Korea, Hark Joon Lee. Of all the interviews, the one with the poet Yong Taek Kim touched me most.  He stood out as a well-known person who does not live the life of a star but that of a simple human being.  I wrote to Hark Joon and asked him to send me a couple of Mr. Kim’s books.

Mr. Kim’s poems took me back to the land of my birth, which I had left long ago, in autumn 1962.  It felt as if Don sent me back to my native land through the poems–as though he were directing me to rediscover my childhood, the smell of the Korean soil, the sky that linked to Iowa sky–all while sitting in New York City.

Poet Kim was born in Cholla Province in southern Korea, on a farm village by the Sumjin river.  He taught elementary school for forty years in the village school that he had attended.  His love of his students, of his river, of birds, ants, wildflowers, of barley, wheat, rice plants, of potatoes, garlic, spring onion . . . is evident in his God-guided poems, gathered in his heart and dispensed, one by one.

Stepping stones across the water, Korea (by DSK-G)

This morning, I read one poem by Mr. Kim that made me cry.  I feel compelled to share it with you.  It stirs up dormant feelings.  The translation is mine.

Teacher Cried, Too

Today we had a school pageant at night.
But neither my Grandma nor Dad came.
Grandma was busy harvesting beans
and Dad had to do his construction work
even at night.

Kang Wook’s Grandma,
Mom and Dad
all came
but no one came for me.

During the rehearsal
tears welled up my eyes
and sent me to the public faucet.
Washing my face,
I cried alone.

Then I heard my teacher calling me.
One look at me, he asked why I was crying.
No answer came out of my mouth.
Teacher hugged me and led me
to an empty class room
and asked me again why I was crying.
Wiping my tears again and again
I told him that neither my Grandma
nor my Dad was coming tonight.
As I told him, more tears came.
My teacher squeezed me tight in his chest.
I buried my face in his chest
and cried and cried.
Wiping my tears,
I stole a look at the teacher,
and saw him crying, too.
I clung to him tighter and cried louder.
The two of us cried together.


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