“Sad Patriarch” by Hwang In-Sook

Hwang In-Sook

Hwang In-Sook (image source)

Thumb, index finger, middle finger.
As you stare at your three outstretched fingers,
I tell you that you’re making the face of someone about to cry.
Your chest is torn in sadness,
and because of the brain cancer,
you, my older sister’s husband, can no longer cry.
Until now, on three fingers you’ve counted
your worries: a wife and two sons.
You envy your old school friends living comfortably—
kids had a little early, retirement come a little early.
You retired suddenly one day, too,
and considered fishing,
but instead retired to your illness,
leafing through an assortment of newspapers
and cutting out notices for jobs in areas far away.


엄지 검지 중지
세 손가락 세워 보이며
울 듯한 얼굴을 하곤 했다고
가슴 미어지게 슬픈데
브레인 캔서 때문에
눈물도 못 흘리던 형부
마지막까지 손가락 세 개
아내와 두 아들 걱정
일찌감치 자식 두고 일찌감치 은퇴해
유유자적 지내는 동창이 부러워
자기도 하루빨리 은퇴하고
낚시나 다닐 궁리를 했었는데
병으로 퇴직한 뒤
온갖 신문 뒤적거리며
먼 지방 구인 광고까지 오려놓았다고


The  poem originally appeared in Moonji Webzine, a free, online Korean-language literary journal. Moonji Webzine was discontinued, but new content is still posted on Moonji’s blog.