Poetry London Clore Prize 2018 SECOND PRIZE: Children of the Revolution by S K Kim

  
                                                           for my cousins

First the meat disappeared from our rations,
then the rice, then the barley and millet,
then the rations vanished.

_____

We caught croakers, cuttlefish,
hauled creels of eelgrass and whip-wrack
until soldiers fired warning shots to keep us from the sea:

trapped squirrels, snapped sparrows’ necks,
stoned snakes if we were quick, dug mud
for frogs, dragged dogs from their holes:

and when they were wiped out, gnawed rats raw –
though even they seemed to grow thinner,
the parasites in our guts wither, the lice on our scalps starve –

_____

  
                                                     하루 두 끼만 먹자!
                                                     [LET’S EAT TWO MEALS A DAY!]

_____

We boiled bracken, ground flour for noodles
from bean-stalks, stretched it with sawdust,
cooked gruel from grass or moss:

stripped pine-trees to chew the green inner bark,
picked pigweed, hogweed, horseweed, wort,
pounded acorns into a pulp –

_____

  
                                                 고난의 행군에서 승리한 기세로 새 
                                                      세기의 진격로를 열어나가자! 
                                                 [LET’S CHARGE FORWARD INTO THE NEW CENTURY 
                                                            IN THE SPIRIT OF THE ARDUOUS MARCH!]

_____

Hunt for spilled grain near shipyards and train stations.
Poke through cow-shit for corn.
Wash well.

_____

Crush grubs. Suck leeches. Swallow
the worms that would swallow you.
Eat anything alive to stay alive.

_____

Snatch scraps of black-market meat.
Mother-meat, father-meat, meat of ‘wandering swallows,’ meat of tomorrow –?
Is-Was. Eat-Eaten.

_____

  
                                              오늘을 위해 살지 말고 내일을 위해 살자!
                                              [LET US NOT LIVE FOR TODAY, BUT FOR TOMORROW!]

_____

The children’s skulls swelled, their bellies bloated,
their nails fell off,
their faces leathered, flesh blackened with infection,

their hair rusted, eyes ringed with wrinkles
as if steel spectacles had been soldered into skin,
but what was there to see?

_____

Dig faster! Save face, the aid workers are coming!
Hide them, the rotted bodies, lives heaped high as leaves –
there is hardly earth enough to bury all the dead.

 

(Note: Kochebi (고제비), or ‘wandering swallows’, are North Korean children orphaned by the 1990s famine, during which an estimated 600,000 to 3.5 million died, out of a national population of 22 million, according to the UN)

Judge’s Report by Kwame Dawes
 


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