Poetry by North Korean teenage youth defectors translated into English for the first time.
“ANSEONG, South Korea—The hundreds of North Korean children and teenagers who now defect every year to South Korea were born after Pyongyang’s Stalinist system began to collapse, some during the worst years of a food shortage believed to have killed up to 2 million people.
Many are orphans, all are stunted from malnutrition, and most have missed months or years of school as a result of North Korea’s collapsing system and time spent illegally transiting through China and other third countries.
At the government-funded Hangyoreh Middle High School, a three-year-old remedial boarding school for more than 200 North Korean teens, courses include core academic subjects as well as life skills and arts, including creative writing.
Hangyoreh principal Gwak Jong-moon has collected poetry written under pseudonyms by the students and published it in a Korean-language volume titled “The Moon Is Up.” With his kind permission, Radio Free Asia has translated these poems into English for the first time and will publish them in several parts.
Deceptively simple in style, these poems convey stark, poignant scenes from the students’ own lives, including loss, separation, and hunger. The title of the collection alone evokes the clandestine nature of their journey to South Korea, of young lives lived in shadow to avoid arrest and repatriation to swift and certain punishment in North Korea.”
(Source: Radio Free Asia: www.rfa.org)
The Letters I Could Never Send
By Park Eun Shil
The wind is blowing over mountain after mountain,
Softly whispering a song into my ear
Today the wind is growing stronger
Stabbing my cheeks
Digging into my flesh
It curls around me, my ears hurt
Blowing chills, it’s riddling me with stings, I’m going numb
My eardrums are bursting
The wind is hurting me so bad
My soul is beginning to hurt
If it’s my face that’s being whipped by the wind,
Why is it my soul that hurts?
Shooting up in the sky, a soccer ball
For no reason
There was a time when my father and I used to play
Today, I am playing soccer alone, I imagine I’m playing
The severe father I hated to see
Now that I see that soccer ball shooting up
I remember my father’s face
That memory is gone in an instant, gone with the wind
With the soccer ball, it flies
Far away, into the western sky.
When Will That Day Come?
By Hong Soo Young
Seasons never stop and just go by
This year again, fall is upon me
How come the wall of separation
Is not crumbling down yet
With fall, the foliage comes
The foliage gone, white frost is everywhere
Seasons go by in vain
How come the frost filling my soul
Will not thaw
When will the day come, the day of the rallying cry of unification
The day that will thaw
The frost filling my soul
That day is approaching, one day at a time
The day I will meet my beloved family
Is not too far away
Will that day only
Thaw the frost filling my soul
I wish for that day to come, I wish to greet the day
That will thaw the frost filling my soul
And replace it with warmth and coziness.
The Warm Embrace
By Hong Eun Hee
When I was little, I did not know
The warmth of my mother’s embrace
Now I know
The worth of my mother’s embrace
My mother’s embrace, that I now miss
My mother’s embrace, that I dream of
The day that I get back
My mother’s embrace,
Could that day come, it’s all that I ask for.
The day somebody longs for my embrace
And receives it with a warm heart
Even though it may not be as warm as my mother’s embrace
It will bring warmth to a corner of my soul.
Out of all the poems, I chose three that spoke most to me. There isn’t much need for words; just by reading these poems you can tell how much these North Korean youth defectors went through. They may be smiling on the outside, but they still harbor deep-set hurts and pain. To have gone through so much when they haven’t reached adulthood… I only wish for them to have many happy days in the future.