It’s been twenty-five years since I last murdered someone, or has it been twenty-six? Anyway, it’s about that long ago. What drove me back then wasn’t, as people usually assume, the urge to kill or some sexual perversion. It was disappointment. It was hope for a more perfect pleasure. Each time I buried a victim, I repeated to myself: I can do better next time.
The very reason I stopped killing was because that hope vanished.
I kept a journal. An objective report. Maybe I needed something like that at the time. What I’d done wrong, how that made me feel. I had to write it down so I wouldn’t repeat the same gut-wrenching mistakes. Just like students keep a notebook with all their test mistakes, I also kept meticulous records of every step of my murders and what I felt about them.
It was a stupid thing to do.
Coming up with sentences was grueling. I wasn’t trying to be literary and it was just a daily log, so why was it so difficult? Not being able to fully express the ecstasy and pity I’d felt made me feel lousy. Most of the fiction I’d read was from Korean-language textbooks. They didn’t have any of the sentences I needed. So I started reading poetry.
That was a mistake.
The poetry teacher at the community center was a male poet around my age. On the first day of class he made me laugh when he said solemnly, “Like a skillful killer, a poet is someone who seizes language and ultimately kills it.”
This was after I’d already “seized and ultimately killed” dozens of prey and buried them. But I didn’t think what I did was poetry. Murder’s less like poetry and more like prose. Anyone who tries it knows that much. Murdering someone is even more troublesome and filthy than you think.
Anyway, thanks to the teacher I got interested in poetry. I was born the type who can’t feel sadness, but I respond to humor.
I’m reading the Diamond Sutra: “Abiding nowhere, give rise to the mind.”
I took the poetry classes for a long stretch. I’d decided that if the class was lame I would kill the instructor, but thankfully, it was interesting. The instructor made me laugh several times, and he even praised my poems twice. So I let him live. He probably still doesn’t know that he’s living on borrowed time. I recently read his latest poetry collection, which was disappointing. Should I have put him in his grave back then?
To think that he keeps writing poems with such limited talent when even a gifted murderer like me has given up killing. How brazen.
I keep stumbling these days. I fall off my bicycle or trip on a stone. I’ve forgotten a lot of things. I’ve burned the bottoms of three teapots. Eunhui called and told me she made me an appointment at the doctor’s. While I yelled and roared with anger, she stayed silent until she said, “Something is definitely not normal. Something definitely happened to your head. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen you get angry, Abba.”
Had I really never gotten angry before? I was still feeling dazed when Eunhui hung up. I grabbed the cell phone to finish our conversation, but suddenly I couldn’t remember how to make a phone call. Did I first have to press the Call button? Or did I dial the number first? And what was Eunhui’s phone number? I remember there being a simpler way to do this.
I was frustrated. And annoyed. I threw the cell phone across the room.
I didn’t know what poetry was, so I wrote honestly about the process of murder. My first poem, was it called “Knife and Bones”? The instructor remarked that my use of language was fresh. He said that its raw quality and the perceptive way I imagined death depicted the futility of life. He repeatedly praised my use of metaphors.
I asked, “What’s a metaphor?”
The instructor grinned—I didn’t like that smile—and explained “metaphor” to me. So a metaphor was a figure of speech.
Listen, sorry to let you down, but that wasn’t a figure of speech.
I grabbed a copy of the Heart Sutra and began reading:
So, in the emptiness, no form,
No feeling, thought, or choice,
Nor is there consciousness.
No eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, mind.
No color, sound, smell, taste, touch,
Or what the mind takes hold of,
Nor even act of sensing.
No ignorance or end of it,
Nor all that comes of ignorance.
No withering, no death,
No end of them.
Nor is there pain, or cause of pain,
Or cease in pain, or noble path
To lead from pain.
Not even wisdom to attain!
The instructor asked me, “So you really haven’t studied poetry before?”