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KO, Un

Mother

All day long she was out in the Man’gyong River’s mudflats,

where there was neither bone nor unhulled grain of rice ;

she came back home after gathering sea-blite ankle-deep in that distant, wretched mud :

Why, it was already early morning, with the Great Bear already setting ! She was exhausted !

With no time to lay down her weary body, she was obliged quickly to hull barley in a mortar ;

the pestle soared up, struck the dark void, came down pounding and pierced the ground.

Drops of sweat fall into the barley, added seasoning:

Well, with food of that taste, the brats should grow fast.

Where, if not here, would our irrepressible lives be maintained ?

A woman’s life surely saves a multitude of lives.

Borne in a palanquin, she crossed over muddy, slow-flowing waters from Changhang,

in Ch’ungchong Province to her husband’s home, and after that hard journey

began married life in a household with not so much as one crock of bean paste or soy sauce.

Two days after delivering her first son, she had to pound barley,

prepare food in a basket and carry it on her head to the paddy-fields

where the second weeding was in progress.

After childbirth the blood kept seeping out,

she had to wash her underclothes secretly five times a day.

But the way she walked, like a clothes pole, was brisk :

look, she was already walking that far, arousing a breeze.

She had no time even to sing as she had to do every job while the spring famine was passing.

If you left the fields untended in summer, why, that was as terrible as raising ten tiger cubs !

Living amidst flourishing grass, amidst poverty, amidst all those damned tasks,

my mother, my mother, how could she be only my mother ?