critical reflections on "comfort women" 75 years on

From a piercing collection of poems, A Cruelty Special to Our Species, poet Emily Jungmin Yoon explores gender, race, and violence, confronting the histories of sexual violence against women, especially that of “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual labor in Japanese-occupied territories during World War II.


On Wednesday, I ate plain yogurt.
    Opened a notebook. Vivaldi 
as I folded my laundry.

It was his birthday. On Wednesday,
    it rained. On the succulents,
on the surviving women.

Tricked or taken, carted to Japanese soldiers.
    The condom said, Attack Number One
Rinsed for reuse. On Wednesday,

I listened to The Four Seasons.
    It stopped raining. It never stopped
raining. On Wednesdays, it rains

for the children they bore. For the children
    they could not bear. For the children
they were. Give them this day. Give them 

Vivaldi, violin, give them the all-girls choir.
    L’inverno, come and gone. All four seasons,
come and gone. On Wednesday,

nothing happened. Rain evaporated,
     and so did the concertos.
Wednesdays ago, the women,

the girls, clutched each other. Who will live,
    who will leave, who believes this life.
The world will be better after you and me.


“Comfort” from A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon. Copyright© 2018 by Emily Jungmin Yoon. Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers.


수요일에, 나는 플레인 요거트를 먹었다.
     공책을 펼쳤다. 빨래를 개는 동안

그의 생일이었다. 수요일에,
     비가 내렸다. 다육식물들 위로,
살아남은 여자들 위로.

속거나 납치당해서, 일본군에게 끌려갔다.
     콘돔에 적혀 있는 건, 돌격 1번.
헹궈서 재사용. 수요일마다,

나는 사계를 들었다.
     비가 그쳤다. 비는 그치는 법이
없었다. 수요일에, 비가 내린다

그들이 품었던 아이들을 위해. 그들이 품을 수
     없었던 아이들을 위해. 그들이었던
아이들을 위해. 그들에게 이날을 주어라. 그들에게

비발디를, 바이올린을, 그들에게 소녀 합창단을 주어라.
     겨울, 오고 갔다. 네 계절이 전부,
오고 갔다. 수요일에,

아무 일도 없었다. 비가 증발했고,
     협주곡들도 그랬지.
오래전 수요일들에, 여자들이,

소녀들이 서로를 꼭 붙들었다. 누가 사는가,
     누가 떠나는가, 누가 이 삶을 믿는가.
너와 나 다음 세상은 나아지기를. 


Translated by Han Yujoo and reprinted from 우리 종족의 특별한 잔인함 (2020) with permission of publisher Yolimwon.

Emily Jungmin Yoon is the author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco, 2018), which was released in Korea as 우리 종족의 특별한 잔인함 (Yolimwon, 2020), and Ordinary Misfortunes (Tupelo Press, 2017). She has also translated and edited a chapbook of poems, Against Healing: Nine Korean Poets (Tilted Axis, 2019). She is the Poetry Editor for The Margins, the literary magazine of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD candidate in Korean literature at the University of Chicago.