Six Zen Poems

Musan Cho Oh-hyun

2007  .  Seoul at Noon

Today, a nude photo, halfway torn
At a crossroad on an alley wall
Amid the eateries of Sinsadong

And still, the Earth spins—
Gallileo's whine

2007 .  Seoul at Night

Mute tree, mute bird
A picture of me, sitting

An island frozen over in the dark

Not that, either, but a loud bird sneezing

Waning Landscape

Are they crying, or laughing, as they go
The geese from the reed forest flying in a flock
And the sky, the autumn sky, its throat sunk in the kill


To live like that, to go on living like that
Mountains forming valleys to let the waters flow
And trees breeding insects under their rough bark

The Sound of My Own Cry

In the woods at noon
I hear a bird cry out

On the shore, mid-morning,
I hear the gulls

When will I hear
The sound of my own cry?

This Body of Mine

I went to the top of Namsan and watched the sun go down

Seoul was a dark, red, frothing swamp

And in it, this body of mine, a leech stuck to a duckweed leaf

translated from the Korean by Heinz Insu Fenkl

Read the original in Korean

Musan Cho Oh-hyun was born in 1932 in Miryang in South Gyeongsang Province of Korea. He has lived in the mountains since he became a novice monk at the age of seven. Over the years he has written over a hundred poems, including many in sijo form. In 2007 he received the Cheong Chi-yong Literary Award for his book Distant Holy Man. The lineage holder of the Mt. Gaji school of Korean Nine Mountains Zen, he is in retreat as the head of Baekdamsa Temple at Mt. Seoraksan.

Heinz Insu Fenkl was born in 1960 in Bupyeong, Korea. He is a novelist, translator, and editor. His autobiographical novel, Memories of My Ghost Brother, was named a Barnes & Noble "Discover Great New Writers" selection in 1996 and a PEN/Hemingway Award finalist in 1997. He began translating Master Cho's Zen poetry after receiving a koan in May of 2010. His most recent prose translation, Yi Mun-yol's short story, "An Anonymous Island," was published in the September 12, 2011 issue of The New Yorker.