Excerpt from Naked Tree by Park Wansuh
Translated from Korean by Jacki Noh
For original Korean source text and the painting that this story refers to, please visit the following website http://www.seelotus.com/gojeon/hyeon-dae/soseol/18-mun-hak-text/na-mok.htm
S Gallery was located on the third floor of the building. I was out of breath when I hurriedly reached the top of the stairs and the entrance to the gallery. Through the entrance, even before I stepped inside, I noticed on the wall a large naked tree.
I ignored the paintings that were hung left and right of this one. I felt like it was calling me, like I was being drawn into it. Approaching, I stood directly in front of it.
There were two women – one with a baby on her back who was loitering about the tree and the other was carrying a load on her head and hastily passing by the tree.
Hanging on the wall of that dark, rented room I had seen an old tree in the midst of a drought. But for some reason I no longer saw that tree as an old tree in the midst of drought. To the eyes of my present day’s mind I saw a dormant, leafless tree. They were similar yet very different. This bare tree, shuddering in the gentle wind of Kimchi-making season had just lost its last leaf. Although it is the bare tree of Kimchi-making season and spring is just a distant memory, its large trunk was defiantly and impatiently emitting the smell of spring.
Without complaint, the tree is standing imposingly, while several branches are creating perfect harmony like nothing is to be desired. Walking by this tree are two women carrying the chill of Kimchi-making season.
Winter is looming before these women while the naked tree has a resolute faith in spring’s eventual arrival, though still a long way off.
Faith in spring’s arrival. Perhaps that is what made the tree look so dignified. Now I realize that Ock Hee Do is that bare tree. I know that he lived like the leafless tree of Kimchi-making season during those dark and difficult days, I am also convinced that then, I was merely an immature woman who was loitering about that tree, longing for the bushes where my fatigued body and soul having no real purpose, could be comforted and momentarily scraped along the tree.
‘Tree and Two Women’… That painting was already a part of some foreigner’s collection.
For a moment, when I left S gallery, I was at a loss as to what I should do. I felt like I had just gotten off a train at an unfamiliar station after a long journey, not knowing if what I was feeling was weariness or despair. While in this state of mind, my husband rescued me.
“Should we stop for a cup of tea somewhere?”
“How about over there?”
I pointed with my chin towards Deoksugung Palace in front of us.