Old Letter
Old Letter
  • Lee Dae Heum
  • 승인 2022.11.01 15:59
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LEE Dae-heum was born in Jangheung-gun, Jeollanam-do in 1967, and began his creative work through <Creation and Criticism> in 1994. His poetry collections include “You are from Bukcheon(2018)”, “I’m sad to hear(2010)”, “Fire in the water(2007)”, “A wound saves me(2001)”, and “A whale lives in my tears(1997)”. His novel works include “Chung-aeng(2007)”, and “CHOI Dong-rin, the head of the school at age Thirteen(2018)”, and his research books include “The Literary world study of Poetry(2020)”, “Si1-talk 1(2020)”, “Si-talk 2(2020)”, and “Si-talk 3(2020)”. There are also several essay collections of the poet such as “Memories of Tamjin River: 3,000 won/ bowl(2016)”, “Your name is the only thing that goes away(2007)”, and “People you miss come by train(2000)”. He has received the Cho Tae-il Literary Award, the Yuksa Poetry Literary Award-the Young Poet Award, and the Jeonnam Cultural Award.

Big brother went to Singapore to make money,
And bills were piling up on the floor.
Mother, who hadn’t even finished elementary school,
Picked up reading Korean,
But it was too much for her to write a letter by herself.
Thanks to my boilermaker big brother, I could
Go to middle school
And was transcribing the letter Mother dictated
On a double-sided paper.
Her orthographically inconsistent letter often made my big brother cry.

Dear Eldest, as it is so hot these days, how hard it must be for you to sweat in another country! Thanks to you, I don’t worry about your younger siblings’ tuitions, but I have no face to see you. As your father is well and your brothers and sisters are doing well, don’t worry about us. Just take good care of yourself. You’ve asked if my knees hurt in your last letter, but I’m totally fine, so don’t worry.

About that time,
I insisted she include a greeting about the season.
So she said,

As I can hear Scops owl cry, it’s late at night.
The hydrangeas at the door are in full bloom.
But then,

Why write about such trivial things?
It’s more important whether we are well or not.
Are you not feeling sorry for your brother?
It feels awful to spend money so easily as if shelling pumpkin seeds,
The money he made under the blazing sun, while shedding bloody sweat.
This month’s salary was all gone,
Although we should be able to hand him at least some savings when he returns home…
Although he has both mother and father, neither of us can help him.
She was immediately tearing up.

Then I began writing the letter,
Freely elaborating on her words:

Dear Eldest, It’s your mom. How hard it must be to work in such a hot place? It’s so hot here, so how much hotter it must be where you are! But I am embarrassed to say, although I try to save as much as I can, to accumulate some savings for you, all your salary this month has gone after I paid the school fees for your brothers and sisters and a little bit of debt we owe to the National Agricultural Coop. Really, as mother, I am at a loss for words. Thinking of you, shedding bloody sweat in a tropical country, I can barely breathe or speak, but what can I do? I haven’t found any solution. Seeing the Scops owl that began crying when I was 
seeding rice seeds cry again, it’s quite late at night. The hydrangeas you planted last year grew quite tall. We planted sweet potatoes and beans in the field near the river, and I took your brothers and sisters to weed there during the daytime. It was so hot they played in the water after weeding a little. Looking at them play, I thought how hard it would be for you to work standing under the blazing sun and I couldn’t help my tears. All is well here; please make sure to take good care of yourself. Although I’m writing a letter to you, I don’t have the face to see you. Your pathetic mom is giving you a hard time. I’m so sorry that I cannot save at all the money you worked so hard to earn. I don’t know if your brothers and sisters will remember to thank you.

About then, Mother’s eyes were filled with tears, and I said, I wrote exactly as you dictated, and, at the end of the letter, added a few sentences,

Elder brother, it’s Dae-heum, Mother is crying now. She cries whenever she talks about you. Please take good care of yourself, and don’t forget to bring some mechanical pencils when you come home.


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