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The Poems of Kim Chi Ha


The poet Kim Chi Ha is currently serving a life sentence in a South Korean prison. At times his verse seethes with fierce emotion and resentment of the police state that has stripped the South Korean people of their freedom, at other moments it speaks in hushed, compassionate whispers about the injustices and exploitation of the weak by the strong. The two poems reprinted here, "No Return" and "Goodbye", exemplify both aspects of the revolutionary poet's work. "No Return" reveals the personal nightmare of the artist in a police state; "Goodbye" captures, as best as a male poet can hope to, the torment of Korean women forced by the government to sell their bodies to visiting Japanese businessmen in the loathsome practice known as kisaeng.

No Return

I shall not return having once stepped into this place.

If I sleep, it is the sleep which cuts deeply into the flesh--

That sleep, that white room, that bottomless vertigo.

The sound of high leather boots in the night,

The place where they come and go on the ceiling,

Invisible faces, hands, gestures,

That room where voices and laughter arise--

That white room, that bottomless vertigo.

Opening my eyes

With the pain of a fingernail being pulled out,

Crying, my body being torn apart,

My wizened soul alone remaining.

Can I not depart?

In vain,

Comrades who died in vain,

Fallen into humiliating sleep,

Fallen into sleep in vain.

In the past

Sometimes faintly smiling, sometimes crying out--

Those wonderful friends.

Ah, I shall not return, not return.



Don't cry, I'll be back

Crossing white hills, black hills, powder-dry

With heavy steps over the road to Seoul

To sell myself

When will I return

When will I come back blooming with smiles

Without ever having put on the dress that women wear when they reach twenty

I'll go now

Don't cry, I'll go now

No matter how bad life may get

I'll never forget the snowdrop flowers or the fragrance of Camelia oil in my hair

They'll stay with me in my dreams

I may return at night crying

With only the stars to guide me

I'm going now

Don't cry, I'm going now

Even the sky hangs heavy with sorrow

Over powder-dry hills

Heavy, heavy I go towards Seoul

To sell myself.

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