‘Grandfather’ by Ko Un

This is taken from Ko Un’s Ten Thousand Lives (Manibo).

Even when he’s drunk himself into a stupor,

there are two things he skillfully keeps from slipping-

the tongue in his mouth

and the long pipe sticking out of the collar of his jacket.

If he collapses and passes out on a rice-field bank

because of the great power of a gallon of makkolli,

his three sons come running, as good sons should,

and home he comes, borne on their shoulders.

Once back home, he demands another drink, smashes the fence down,

shouts out to the neighborhood, everywhere and nowhere,

as far as the red-clay fields of the next village

struck by lightning not so long ago,

then falls asleep, screaming, “Bitch bitch! Bitch!”

Once he comes round, he’s fresh water’s blood-brother.

There he is, standing with folded arms, the butt of scolding

under the rainwater falling from the eaves, Ko Han-gil.


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