I Sell My Daughter for 100 Won, by Jang Jin-sung (N. Korea)

Exhausted, in the midst of the market she stood
“For 100 won, my daughter I sell”
Heavy medallion of sorrow
A cardboard around her neck she had hung
Next to her young daughter
Exhausted, in the midst of the market she stood

A deaf-mute the mother
She gazed down at the ground, just ignoring
The curses the people all threw
As they glared
At the mother who sold
Her motherhood, her own flesh and blood

Her tears dried up
Though her daughter, upon learning
Her mother would perish of a deadly disease
Had buried her face in the mother’s long skirt
And bellowed, and cried
But the mother stood still
And her lips only quivered

Unable she was to give thanks to the soldier
Who slipped a hundred won into her hand
As he uttered
“It is your motherhood,
And not the daughter I’m buying”
She took the money, and ran

A mother she was,
And the 100 won she had taken
She spent on a loaf of wheat bread
Toward her daughter she ran
As fast as she could
And pressed the bread on the child’s lips
“Forgive me, my child”
In the midst of the market she stood
And she wailed.

• Translated from the Korean by Sung Young Soon.

 

This haunting poem was written by a North Korean defector named Jang Jin-Sung. I recently finished “Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee — a Look Inside North Korea” by Jang Jin-Sung who runs New Focus International. I *highly* recommend the book.