When I close my eyes and float upI feel as if I’m drifting inside someone who’s under anesthesiaMoon is shining like the lens of the patient’s eyeballand I’m sitting on the white of his eyeexamining his sadnessWe’re experiencing turbulence, please fasten your seatbeltsIs everyone listening or sleeping?In yesterday’s news somebody opened the window and cut the ropeof a window cleaner hanging from a high-rise buildingHis wife wailed all night longAs on a plane there are first, second, third-class zones in hospitals and funeral parlorsPatients endure, strapped to the bed, in one, two, or six-bed zonesEverything in front of me is like the seawatersurrounding the weeping capsized boat on the TV screenBut daddies sick in bedcall out, Mommy, mommy!What can their mothers in graves possibly do for them?Their mothers are also looking for their mommiesTwo eyes scared or scary lookingare stuck to the frozen window like double lightbulbsHospital flies far away at nightcircling the Earth like a Ferris wheelThe inside is life and the outside is deathLife is a sealed bagI think that the guardrail bedis flying awayDown below fishing boats sail out from the harborand the big wildfire begins to spreadRats multiply endlesslylike the headwaters of a riverLapdogs yelp from the delivery vanflying across my dark eyesAs on a plane, there are first-class, second-class, third-class coffins at the mortuaryHospital rows, squeaking across the sky-pond at nightpretending it can't hear me at alleven when I tell it to be quietMommy, please help me, help me, Mommy!Dear Daddy, it's your nightmareBirds migrating over the Himalayascover their ears
“Fly, Hospital!” by Kim Hyseoon, translated by Don Mee Choi, from PHANTOM PAIN WINGS, copyright © 2019 by Kim Hyesoon.
Translation and Translator’s Diary copyright © 2023 by Don Mee Choi.
Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.
Kim Hyesoon, one of the most influential contemporary poets in South Korea, is the author of several books of poetry and essays. She has received many awards for her poetry, including the 2019 International Griffin Poetry Prize for Autobiography of Death (New Directions, 2018) and the prestigious Samsung Ho-Am Prize in 2022. Besides English, Kim’s work has been translated into Chinese, Danish, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Swedish.
Winged ventriloquy—a powerful new poetry collection channeling the language of birds by South Korea’s most innovative contemporary writer
An iconic figure in the emergence of feminist poetry in South Korea and now internationally renowned, Kim Hyesoon pushes the poetic envelope into the farthest reaches of the lyric universe. In her new collection, Kim depicts the memory of war trauma and the collective grief of parting through what she calls an “I-do-bird-sequence,” where “Bird-human is the ‘I.’” Her remarkable essay “Bird Rider” explains: “I came to write Phantom Pain Wings after Daddy passed away. I called out for birds endlessly. I wanted to become a translator of bird language. Bird language that flies to places I’ve never been.” What unfolds is an epic sequence of bird ventriloquy exploring the relentless physical and existential struggles against power and gendered violence in “the eternal void of grief” (Victoria Chang, The New York Times Magazine). Through intensely rhythmic lines marked by visual puns and words that crash together and then fly away as one, Kim mixes traditional folklore and mythology with contemporary psychodramatic realities as she taps into a cremation ceremony, the legacies of Rimbaud and Yi Sang, a film by Agnes Varda, Francis Bacon’s portrait of Pope Innocent X, cyclones, a princess trapped in a hospital, and more. A simultaneity of voices and identities rises and falls, existing and exiting on their delayed wings of pain.