Five Poems from Nothing Will Change Although I Cry
By Park Joon
Translated by Beth Hong
Some Words Don’t Die
When I have a conversation with someone, I have a habit of trying hard to remember at least one sentence.
“Bring some hot water” is the last thing I remember my maternal grandfather telling me. “See you at the Chinese restaurant where we met” was the last thing my favorite senior novelist teacher told me.
There’s a lot of words I have to remember other than the ones of those who passed away first. “Next time, let’s meet in the Jongno neighborhood you like,” was what an ex said to me a long time ago, with whom I had broken up with on a street somewhere in Bundang. I regret not foreseeing their passing, so these words became the last will and testament they left behind for me.
“There are no movies playing at Chungmuro these days” were the last words of a former co-worker before we naturally drifted apart.
Now I won’t meet them. Even if we cross paths on the street, I’d probably greet them with a brief glance and pass them by. So these words also have become their will.
Conversely, I believe that the words I spoke to others without thinking can be a will I left for them. So I try to say even banalities in a warmer and more eloquent way.
But it’s not easy. Just today, during the morning business meeting, I casually used horrible terms of war such as “strategies” and “destruction” without giving a second thought. At lunch, I ran into an acquaintance at a restaurant and used the cliche, “Let’s get together sometime.” Since evening, I had no chance to talk to anyone because I was alone.
Words are born in someone’s mouth and die in another’s ears. But some words don’t die; they go inside someone’s mind and live on.
Even if you don’t have a habit of remembering others’ words like me, most people stockpile quite a lot of words in their minds. Some words are fearful, some joyful, and some are still painful. And then some other words make one’s heart flutter.
It’s a night when I think about your heart filled with countless wills written with black letters.
Pale and Thin Light
Sleep is good. All of the worries, fears, and pain that I encounter in my life as a human being gets mostly resolved through sleep. The pain of breaking up, fears about the future, and even things that pester me like a groaning fever all got resolved after sleeping.
But some memories don’t get resolved through sleep. Then I dream. It’s not that I’m in any special state of mind when I dream, but I just keep thinking of one thing until I fall asleep.
These days I see you often in my dreams. My dreams are commonly in black and white, and frequently you sit silently with your back turned, or stand alone in a distant field. But on lucky days, we face each other and even have a conversation. Then I ask all of the things I’d been curious about. ‘How’s life? How’s death?’ ‘Is there anything you need?’ ‘Who’s the person you came with last time?’
There was a time that I was so glad to see you in my dreams that I asked you to pinch my cheeks. You laughed and pinched my cheeks hard. But somehow it didn’t hurt at all.
That was when I realized that I was in a dream and wept out loud. You hugged me as I wept. When I woke up with tears streaming from my eyes, the morning light was falling on my body. It was pale and thin like you.
Day Drinking (partial excerpt)
I think it was some kind of Japanese restaurant in Hyehwa. We met after I went through a personal crisis that was difficult for me to handle. It seemed like my teacher was about to tell me that something bad had come up for me, but he didn’t bring it up. By the time we had emptied a bottle each, he started speaking.
“Life is strange and difficult, isn’t it? The one refuge is that we get older. Getting older doesn’t mean that life leaves us alone, but at least you stop giving yourself a hard time or pushing yourself.”
At the time, his words were of great comfort to me. Whenever bad things happened afterwards, I said them to myself. His words arose naturally, like the desire to drink on rainy afternoons. Or like the desperate thirst for a cup of cold water the day after a hangover.
is often just like crying.
You can’t start doing it on purpose,
And you can’t stop even if you try.
It flows and flows,
Drips and drops.
Becoming an Adult (partial excerpt)
Once I met an elderly person at dinner. It started with the same question as usual. But his answer was not the usual. “I can’t be sure, but it seems you’re in a really hard period of your life. At least it was for me. Whether it was love, career, or financial problems, nothing worked out the way I wanted. Otherwise, everything would not go the way I wanted it. But it occurred to me after getting much older that life is not meant to go the way you want it to. Life just goes deeper and deeper into your mind. Getting older is better than you think. Don’t worry too much either and get older, Joon.”
Park Joon has published essays, poems and an illustrated poetry book, including I Took Your Name as Medicine, We Might See the Rainy Season Together, Nothing Will Change Although I Cry and We Are Well. He always lives with a dog.
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