“Dance of the Teeth” by Lee Soo-Myeong


Lee Soo-Myeong (image source)

When he got home he would take out his teeth. Smiling toothlessly into the mirror, he would lay them down in a cup in the bathroom. When morning came, he would put them back in one tooth at a time, then leave for work.

One day after returning particularly tired, he awoke to a strange sound coming from the bathroom. Getting out of bed to check on the noise, he found his teeth click clacking as they bumped bodies into each other mid dance. “That looks like a lot of fun. Make room for me!” And with those words, each tooth in turn replied, “Come on in!” The man burst into dance and stepped into the cup.

He always went around with a bag full of things to sell. He always worked hard, but hardly found anyone to buy, and so whether morning or night, his bag was always heavy. When he died, the things in his bag were scattered here and there, but the teeth from the bathroom were buried with him. And with them each night he danced.


집에 돌아오면 늘 이가 빠졌다. 그는 빠진 이빨들을 화장실 물컵에 넣어 두고는 거울을 보며 텅 빈 입으로 웃었다. 아침이면 그것들을 하나씩 차례로 끼고 외출을 했다.

어느 날인가 몹시 피곤하여 돌아온 날 밤 그는 화장실에서 이상한 소리가 들려 잠을 깼다. 일어나 가보니 이빨들이 컵에서 나와 똑딱거리며 몸을 부딪쳐 가면서 춤을 추고 있었다. “참 재미있겠구나. 나도 끼워줘.” 그의 말에 이빨 하나가 대답했다. “어서 들어와.” 그는 춤을 추었다. 그러자 이빨들이 컵 속으로 들어가 버렸다.

그는 가방 가득 물건을 팔러 다녔다. 언제나 열심히 일했지만 그의 물건을 사려는 사람이 별로 없었고 가방은 아침이나 저녁이나 무거웠다. 그가 죽었을 때 그의 가방과 가방 속에 있던 물건들은 이리저리 흩어졌지만 화장실에 있던 이빨들은 그와 함께 묻혔다. 그는 밤마다 이빨들과 함께 춤을 추었다.


Dance of the Teeth (이빨들의 춤) appears as part of Cat Watching a Video of a Cat (고양이 비디오를 보는 고양이), published in 2004 by Moonji.

Of the collection, Hwang Hyeon-San writes:

“Seeing beyond the confusion, Lee Soo-Myeong’s fourth book of poetry reads like a surreal, hallucinatory script to a dream you have no choice but to dream. The collection is dense with poems showing how the freedom of dreams is rooted in reality’s lack of freedom. Her fable-like poems don’t run in the direction of proverbs but rather, with a single motion, tear down hardening minds to the ground or tear strikingly into them with a razor’s edge. It is a way of representing in ice the utter inescapableness of daily life. Put together, these images which seem like something from a nightmare are symbols speaking to the complicated nature of dreams and reality” (source).