Four Prose Poems

Lee Young-ju

Mama’s Marmalade

Though I leave the door open, you just don’t know to come out. Like the stone that has knead-kneaded the sweet fruit-flesh, until the tender, sweet-smelling flesh has thoroughly disappeared. For a long time, I tried stirring with a long chopstick. Shall we get out together? Dripping this question that doesn’t end. Everything here, without anything rotting, will be dripped into your mouth as-is, you know. Inside the jar, you’re knead-kneading your own hands and feet. I want to make you, layer by layer, into a person who doesn’t rot. Even in a moment of crying, to please let the sweet tears spill into the jar, so you can lick it, and even after death, to let flesh harden when cold water is poured, so the stone that presses on the heart can . . . . . . Even if I leave the lid open, you won’t be able to get out. Let’s get out together, I’d blown swindle into the lip of the jar. It had dripped such beautiful stench. The smell of sadness might be what spreads from the wind in the jar, I’d thought. You’re using, in place of your disappeared hands and feet, your stump of body to suck on the fruit-flesh. What is this wind that drips straight out of my spirit? On full speed, everything began to rot. Like a sitting sitter, you don’t know to stand. The dizzy wind began here. The room I lived in when I was twenty. Every jar out and rolling was rotting.

The Ritual to Come of Age

I was behind the door. Like a bat, I was hanging upside down. I wanted to bury my face where urine leaked, a fine stream between the legs of the pastor. Is every history made false, the moment it’s told? Even the peak, which, having carved out only their hearts, threw children to the bottom of the pyramid, couldn’t reach my provenance. Mother said of my heart, which she couldn’t remove from the fossil, Had I removed it, I wouldn’t have left you in the desert. Up until I became an adult, I lived with only a cold breast. Strange, isn’t it? When I entered the street of my home, near my chest, black nails sprouted. I became a bat with a body that grew more and more pointy and bulky. Grown men, too, it seems because of dead history, put a hand in my heart and blew breaths into it. I became a bat woman with many hands. The holy chorus ringing through the basement was smooth and soft. When the time came to pray, I took with my burnt black hand the many hands that had sprouted from my breast. When I passed by men who wanted to be children again, I called for my mother. Mother was behind the door at the end. Like a bat, she taught the pups the way to hang upside down.

Book Club

Brimming with apparently unreadable sentences, she took off her robe. She couldn’t see. At the time, I’d thrown the book in my hand to the tavern floor and was stomping on it. Let’s not suffer. Do read and vomit. Laughing, like a punctuation mark about to pop up any minute, she touched my feet. You ought to read it barefoot, since the big toe sticks up like this. Smoke rose from the soles. Like the prophet who makes the country’s fire without visiting the country, the letters burned. I was in the middle of growing into a fire path on the tavern floor. I learned the formless melts and turns to ash, too. No matter how much it burned, it didn’t warm my cold feet. What’s in the depths? In the midst of the fire path, in the sunken darkness, a transparent ice. They say the people of this country make use of the ice to spread fire along the paths, and then the unfinished sentences fall fluttering down. It may indeed be the beginning of crying. When she rubbed her blind eyes, tears of all those in the tavern rose burning from the tables. Someone grabbed her feet and lay facedown. What kind of a person’s piece of body is this? I need an axe. Singed animals twisted their bodies. A far-off place no one’s ever gone, I walked slowly into that country.

In the Summer

There is a floor I know. Filled with water. I fall, once and again. A notebook is drenched and so made unusable. In the house, there are too many empty notebooks. I can’t seem to leave. There is a flooring. It keeps on sinking, even though my house is not anywhere here. Splashing around, I sleep. The pillow bobs away. It’s okay. In any case it’s a floor, it’ll come back. He pats my forehead. He lacks a hand and I have no head, but the bed fills up when the two of us lie down. The more transparent it is the heavier it is. In this bed, let’s write what there is to stuff the empty notebook. I won’t show anyone. Under the collapsing window, I wrote. Always soaked in water. I’m happy because I can’t recognize it, I panted. I fall, once and again, venturing inside. When many of us fell asleep together, it was even more calm and bleak it was scary. A trickling sound comes from the space in between. He who has died still has his face on the desk. You decided to write everything. Like in the letter you sent me. To write everything in great detail. But, no matter how much you write, it doesn’t fill up under water. No matter how much you heap on, it always disappears. You pathetic thing. The dead man mumbles and looks at me. Water drips drop after drop. I guess I can’t leave. I wrote your shoes. They’re so heavy I can’t wear them again, but I keep writing in the shoe closet. The inside, entered, once and again. I can’t close the door, so stuff spills out. A secret never gets written properly. Frayed slowly because I can’t write it. He who is dead walks, having passed through me. Walks with an atrophying foot. I couldn’t write anything, so you can’t arrive at this place. You’re always sleeping in a slough. His voice becomes distant. I’m wearing his shoes, drifting away, bobbing, though everything will have to come back to the floor.

translated from the Korean by Jae Kim