(The Gwangju Cemetery where the May 18 heroes rest hopefully in peace.)

A Mother’s Last Words To Her Son: May 1980*

by Cheryl L. Daytec-Yañgot

Kim Hyo Seok was just a high school teenager that day in May 1980 when Special Forces arrived before dawn and surrounded the downtown YMCA where he and other pro-democracy protesters had barricaded themselves for several days.

Within minutes, the soldiers opened fire with their tanks and M-16s. By the time the smoke had cleared a few days later in the city of Kwangju, the official body count had passed 500. Some human rights groups have estimated the number of dead as high as 2,000.

-Juan Gonzalez, “Freedom Bid That Shames Us” (Daily News, May 17, 2005)

You went to bed a boy;

waking up to the sound of bloodbath,

you are now a man

Let me reach for the clouds

and banish them from the sky

And then perhaps you will see

the ineffable sadness inside me

My heart has become a prayer:

I am the force

to tie you down to my bosom

But in the end, a son is more than a son

Here you are, spring of my ancient bloodline,

all set to rendezvous with danger

like a stone blindly hurled into the

obsidian air, its path fluctuant

Take a cut of the bread Halmunee baked;

do not forget how peace tastes

Slip into your pocket a handful of dust

from the front yard; remember a home waits

I will join my flowers in their uprising of colors

dancing to the gale from the Yellow Sea,

rustling prayers for Spring to linger

In my bosom, I will cradle your fate

and urge the gods not to forget:

When you were an infant,

I never looked at a withering flower

On your toljabee, you chose the needle and thread

over the bow and arrow;

how you brought the sun down to my palm

on a somber winter as you ate baekseogi!

But you confront your good fortune

I saw how timidity and innocence vanished

from your eyes when the tyrant’s hand

drenched the streets and our people’s dreams

with the blood of the young and old

The darkness in Gwangju

became the lamp unto your path

A son has a mother but he has a country, too

My pride weaves into my fear

I want to say, Go now with my blessings

But even before I release you

to the summons of freedom

on this nameless day

that one day might have a name,

You seem to have already gone away…

-Gwangju, South Korea/ 16 August 2011

*The poem was first published by the May 18 Memorial Foundation in its website; Gwangju, South Korea