Culture: award-winning poet and writer Young-Mi Choi
To the Pigs
On an afternoon when I was really exhausted,
I gave a pearl to a pig.
Jumping up and down with joy, he ran to the other pigs
And bragged that he got to own my pearl.
But it was a cracked pearl.
He doesn’t know
In my drawer, clearer flawless pearls are sleeping…
In my house on a deserted beach on a lonely island,
Deep inside my wardrobe that I haven’t shown anybody,
Pearls that change their colors according to the weather,
Pearls that resemble the mystery of the sea where I was born,
About a thousand of them are waiting to be strung…
People don’t know that
The pearl he has
Is an ugly pearl that can’t even be sold at the market.
I don’t care if it becomes a children’s toy.
I don’t care if talkative pigs chew it while drinking.
I forgot when and where,
But on a very dark and tiring afternoon,
In a hut I entered for shelter from the rain,
I gave a pearl
To a pig I happened to meet.
(It’s not important what his name was)
Because it was so pitch dark,
I didn’t know he was a pig.
I didn’t want to know who he was.
I only vaguely realized that my pocket was picked.
Since that day, ten pigs ganged up on me
And shouted and asked for a pearl.
When I pretended not to hear,
They waited at my street corner.
And after making sure nobody was around
Knocked at the door of my house.
“Give me a pearl.
You have to give me one too.
They began with a polite request,
But ended with a shameless demand.
Simply too tired, reluctantly,
And because I was afraid their cry would wake up my neighbors,
I gave a pearl to an unfamiliar pig.
(It was an even uglier pearl)
The next morning, even before the sun rose,
Twenty fat pigs appeared at the door of my house.
Together with wolves and foxes,
Those ferocious animals climbed the wall,
Trampled on the flowerbed in the yard, overturned flower pots,
Broke delicate branches of my touch-me-nots.
Sang and danced in the flower bed I couldn’t guard.
Then, strong pigs broke the door and entered the kitchen
And ate my bread and drank the wine I had saved for a rainy day.
Squeezing out the last sweet drop, their party went on.
Young wolves were cruel,
And old foxes, knowing the way of the world, were cunning.
In order to guard my precious treasures,
I fought and bled.
Sometimes I fought, other times I compromised.
When they asked for two, I gave one,
Sometimes I deceived them with a fake pearl necklace.
But they didn’t retreat.
I ran away.
I ran far, far away to where they couldn’t follow me.
I borrowed money from friends and traveled by train and ship.
I tore up the letters they sent, and I hung up on their calls.
Still those greedy pigs wouldn’t give up.
Returning from a long trip,
I’m now old and sick.
I don’t even have the strength to get up, but
They ask me for a pearl,
A pearl just one last time…
Let me tell you a story about dreams from my father. My childhood memory begins with my father, talking in his sleep almost every night.
“Kill them all! Uoo…..Ah….aha…Shoot!”
My father who accidently killed his soldier during the Korean War, had a lot of horrible memories. My mother told me much later that he would stop sleep-talking, only when he had love affairs. He was a playboy all through his life.
Now I think his sleep-talking is very poetic. Uoo…..Ah….aha… it might breed my imagination.
“What is he talking about?”
“Why he should kill people every night?”
A little girl wondered at her bed.
My father was connected to many important political upheavals in modern Korean history. When he was in his high school, he carried a grenade in his pocket to assassinate the famous leftist leader, Yu Oon-hyung (여운형). He cried when he heard the news that Yu was killed by another terrorist. (He wanted the glory for himself.)
I have been accustomed to sudden disappear of father. He would be held in custody whenever American presidents visited Korea. My mother hid him in the closet when Johnson visited. My father remains a naive right wing liberalist. We remained in poverty as he came in and out of prison several times.
I grew up in an era of anxiety, under my anxious father, fed on his anxious meals. I turned to reading books to kill that anxiety, before the anxiety kills me. Literature was my destiny.
In 1980, when I was a freshman at Seoul National University, the center of Student Movement, Gwang-ju massacre happened. My college shut down, and my youth shut down as well. Unlike my father, I was a thinker rather than activist. I joined the demonstration neither in front of the barricade nor in the back with my arms crossed. I always hesitated at the crucial moment. I was one of an underground group of translators of Marxist texts. I fought with foreign languages, instead of fighting directly military dictatorship.
In 1992 after the Soviet collapsed, I made my literary debuts.
I choose to remain an outsider from Korean literary circles. What distinguishes me from other Korean writers is not only my work and my style, but also the way I survive as an independent individual who do not belong to any literary power house. I think I am as vulnerable as a soft tofu. But when my freedom is challenged, I stand up, ready to fight.
Young-Mi Choi is a poet and novelist from South Korea. Her poem, Monster (괴물) , ignited the #MeToo movement in Korea in 2018. Her poetry is very much a lived poetry and threatening to conventional values of Korean society. She has published six poetry collections and penned two novels.