Copyright granted by White Pine Press
Wild Apple by HeeDuk Ra
Celebrating The Insect
The month of June is when the Muju Firefly Festival is celebrated in South Korea. The purpose of the Festival is to honor and celebrate South Korea’s local ecosystem. Muju is the only place in South Korea where fireflies are found, and the people of Muju use the insects’ annual appearance as an excuse to celebrate.
In much the same way, South Korean native HeeDuk Ra uses South Korea’s insect system to celebrate life, culture, and poetry in her new poetry collection Wild Apple, published by White Pine Press, September 2015, in its Korean Voices Series, Volume 21.
Wild Apple is translated into the English language by married translation team Daniel Parker and YoungShil Ji.
Ra’s other poetry collections are To the Root, What Was Said Stained the Leaves, It’s Not That Far From Here, What It Means To Grow Dark, and A Disappeared Palm.
Ra has also written a collection of essays, A Water Bucket Filled By Half, and a volume of literary criticism, Where Does the Purple Come From?
The writing of “Wild Apple” was based upon a mystical experience HeeDuk Ra experienced during a trip to New Mexico, where she suddenly found herself in the same landscape she had dreamed about earlier. She compared the overall experience to a dry tree regaining its life by absorbing water through its roots.
U.S. Route I-64 Rio Grande Gage Bridge near Taos, New Mexico. Attributed to Daniel Schwen on 06-25-2010. CCSA3.0
Mixed media painting by Christal Rice Cooper
The spirits pick a wild apple from a tree and give it to the speaker of the poem to eat. This apple has provided sustenance for birds, swarming ants, and finally humanity. In this poem there is a oneness of nature and the spiritual world – every living thing is being used for the way it is intended granting a freedom to all creation, both in life and in death.
String of chili peppers and bleached white cow's skull hang in a market place in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Attributed to Andrew Dunn. CCBYSA2.0
I brushed the ants away and took a bite
wild apple sweet sour bitter
at the horizon the spirits disappeared
I saw myself standing behind my back
I listened to only the wind
took a bite of their wild apple.
In “Forest Memory” the bees act as an orchestra performing in celebration of a man and woman in love as well as the love story between romance and nature.
Mixed media art work by Christal Rice Cooper
Did you hear the sound?
Thousands of bees beating their wings as one?
What shall I call that ecstatic noise?
Bees swarming in the United Kingdom
In “Conversation” the speaker of the poem celebrates the differences of bug life – from the ladybug to inchworm – the celebration of differences is relayed – from odors, to looks, and finally to conversation. The ladybug and the inchworm find comfort when they hide together in a warm room from the cold. The warmer the inchworm and the ladybug become the more they understand one another’s language.
When winter sunbeam illuminate its speckled back
and strike the edges of my eyes as I look at it
the inchworm in me
talks to the ladybug in you
Soon it is more than conversation or escape from boredom the bugs seek from one another – but a reason to live and a purpose to have.
As types of bugs
what sort of conversations can we share:
Giving of an odor
hovering and buzzing around each other?
Squirming together overturned?
In and out of pistils and stamens
uselessly stirring up pollen?
Before being mummified on the windowsill
as types of bugs
what kind of warmth can we share?
of winter sunbeams,
short as a deer’s tail.
In “Gardener’s Language” the bee and its hive complete the circle of life by celebrating the art of death in order for the Japanese apricot tree to grow.
Far right - apricot blossoms. CCBSA3.0
In “His Photo” the speaker of the poem tries to bring back to life the death of a loved one by memorizing a photograph of the loved one’s face and remembering the memory represented by that photograph. The speaker of the poem compares the trapped memory in the photograph to a dried dragonfly.
Caught within the frame like a dried dragonfly is
the beach or one summer day but
fragments like the sound of waves are missing.
In “Air Over the Pedestrian Bridge” two people in love are trying to find one another in the dark of the city, overshadowed by a brilliant skyscraper. The two people keep missing each other in the dark streets, but they finally find each other within the new horizon visible when the “lightning bugs above a stream bank” enable the couple to forget the “shabby pedestrian bridge in the city’s heart” and finds a way to be victorious:
Fireflies in the woods near Nuremberg, Germany at an exposure time of 30 seconds. CCBYSA3.0
two hands which couldn’t clasp on the ground
opening a road in the night air
In “Spiritual Ears” the ears that enable spirits to communicate loose those abilities when they ride on the webs of spiders:
Spiral orb webs in Karijini, WesternAustralia. CCBYSA3.0 Attributed to Bjorn Christian Torrisen.
rode spider webs in the air
shook with each fragile movement
in one moment became dull
no sound was heard
In “Full but Hungry” Ra compares two full butterflies to two sisters, one who birthed six children and the other barren, and both sit in a rose garden after eating a full lunch. Toward the end of the poem, the butterfly overstuffed with nectar symbolizes the full woman overstuffed with unfertilized eggs.
She raised three adopted kids
but her full stomach has not disappeared
as if extra space is left in her there
she stops to smell flowers one by one.
hiding in her fullness hunger sniffs
like a butterfly with nectar still to be collected.
“Because We See Fireflies” is dedicated to Burmese female writer Khet Mar, whom HeeDuk Ra met in the International Writing Program in Iowa.
HeeDuk Ra wrote the poem in response to the horrible news that on September 26, 2007 Myanmar’s armed forces ruthlessly killed groups of civilians protesting for democracy.
In the poem HeeDuk Ra offers encouragement to Khet Mat, the Burmese people, and humanity by using the metaphors of fireflies to represent peace, and crickets giving us the ability to speak despite our mouths being silenced.
Left, firefly larva CCBYSA3.0. Right, male cricket (Gryllus) chirping. CCBYSA3.0
Because We See Fireflies
So Khet Mar, don’t cry, it will be alright
wipe your tears and look at those fireflies,
they are flickering with dim lights just like us.
Often closing our mouths while speaking in broken words,
you and I sit on the edge of the river and hear crickets chirp;
we here might be similar to those insects,
but I understand your broken words,
you understand my broken words more than anyone,
because they come from the same sadness.
Fireflies radiating light in the darkness, or
crickets chirping by rubbing their wings,
both have bare feet the same as us.
So Khet Mar, don’t cry, everything will be all right,
no one will die,
because we see fireflies this evening.
Our flickering light
will be seen by our children in the distance too;
toys are broken and trees have fallen,
yet peace will come to the children’s bare feet too.
The last poem in the collection, “The House I Left” describes me and anyone who takes the time to read and digest Wild Apple as a moth in awe, and in great comfort, despite the cold world we may inhabit.
Six-spot burnet moth extracting nector from a Knautia flower. CCBYSA3.0
Now I’m making a fire.
A moth sleeping on the hearth flies up, amazed,
smoke rises from damp wood.
Why does the fire keep going out?
You’re dark, like the inside of the hearth.
Pondering that makes me dark, too.
I should have left the light on
But remember this:
Today, like a shard of ice that won’t thaw
although the fire is lit, I’ll insulate you
until spring’s pheasants fly to a brighter place.
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