Mount Bindung by Sunwoo Kim – translated by Won-Chung Kim and Christopher Merrill

Entering the world of Mount Mindung* in Kwangwon Province, already sensing

the name bestowed upon it here is but a makeshift grave,

I took off my jacket. The wind was really clean,

no vertical lines could be seen atop the bare mountain.

A field of silver grass ran through the hills,

the wind fluttering in every direction, like a disembodied soul,

my collarbone, ever longing for the nomadism of a naked body, opened.

A few cloud children touched down on my brightened areolas

and pouted with their innocent young lips.

In the silvery chill of the deserted field in early winter,

I took off my bottoms

and wrapped my arms around the children of the cloud race

to walk the airy garden of the reed field. A few lives

passed, casually driving the wind. Light were the dried silver grass flowers

whose brilliant scales fell on my body like the first snow of the year.

The tongue of the wind passed below my giddy waist

to lick the deep valley, carrying reed spores in its mouth.

What a wonder: I can make love to the wind!

Winter grasses are lying low, each making love in various positions.

The cocoons placed on the tips of the grass roots, the sunbeams,

and the naked bodies of all their loving partners were bright in the wind. 

Because the wind embracing wounds often blows,

the sunbeam’s labor went on with its legs open

toward the shadow, just as it did a thousand years ago.

Now I know the unknown something God made love to

when the world was created, a naked body

like the sunbeam on my thigh. Wading through the thick stems of silver grass,

you come, naked, fluttering along the bare backbone.

Today my body receiving you is a temple.

*Mindung means “bare” in Korean.

Sunwoo Kim was born in 1970 and studied Korean literature at college. She has published five books of poetry, including If My Tongue Refuses to Remain in My Mouth (2000), Falling Asleep under Peach Flowers (2003), Who Is Sleeping in My Body? (2007), To My Endless Revolution (2012), and A Nocturne (2016); several books of nonfiction; and four novels: I Am a Dance (2008), Candle Flower (2010), Lovers of Water (2012), and A Prayer: Yoseok and Wonhyo (2015). She has received the Modern Literary Award and the Chen Sangbyung Poetry Award.

Won-Chung Kim is a professor of English Literature at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea, where he teaches contemporary American poetry, ecological literature, and translation. He earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Iowa in 1993. He has translated ten books of Korean poetry, including Chiha Kim’s Heart’s Agony, Hyonjong Chong’s The Dream of Things, and Cracking the Shell: Three Korean Ecopoets. He has also translated E.T. Seton’s The Gospel of the Redman and H.D. Thoreau’s Natural History Essays into Korean.

Christopher Merrill has published six collections of poetry, including Boat and Watch Fire, for which he received the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets; several edited volumes, among them, The Forgotten Language: Contemporary Poets and Nature and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories from Around the World; and six books of nonfiction, most recently, The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War and Self-Portrait with Dogwood. He directs the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.