Testimonies: An Excerpt from ‘A Cruelty Special to Our Species

Poetry by Emily Jungmin Yoon


Hwang Keum-ju

a draft notice for girls, who was going to go? Everybody

crying. I went. I dressed nicely and went

train windows covered with tar paper

None of the girls knew

Japanese soldiers on horses vast Manchurian field

It was now much too cold to sleep

thanks to our body warmth, the sun rose

I waited for them to send me to a factory

They could not possibly dump me here

Image: Ecco Books. (Purchase)

I was called Haruko Nagaki

My long hair was still braided

An officer told me that there were five orders to obey

If I missed any I would be less than dead

I hoped one of the orders was for me to work at a factory.

I looked at his jacket hung inside out to hide his name

I looked at my virgin’s braid at his knife He told me

I was not going to any factory

told me to take off my clothes I told him

I did not understand his order

and his kind of factory and he laughed

Girls arrived got sick pregnant injected

with so many drugs nameless animals

exploded on top of us

The day of liberation Suddenly,

no sound of horses the last soldier

stood in the kitchen “Your country is liberated,

and my country is sitting on a fire.”

So I left the barracks

I walked

I was alone and walked all the way to the 38th parallel

American soldiers sprayed me with so much DDT

all the lice fell off me

It was December 2nd

I lost my uterus

I am now 73 years old.


Kim Soon-duk

there was “girl delivery” just like

farmers’ mandatory delivery

of harvested rice

to the government. I wanted to hide

but what if my mother was captured

in my place

My mother was needed at home Mother

Mother I decided to go

they promised a job as a military nurse in Japan

Mother a man gathered us near the county office

and took us to Pusan to Nagasaki

That night the girl next to me went missing

each night they sent several virgin girls to military officers

a military officer came to me and said

every young girl experiences sex in her lifetime

that I might as well do it now

they took us they took us to Shanghai to a ruined village

my body a ruined village a damaged house

our manager gave me packets of black powder

to reduce my bleeding from the vagina

He then told me it was made

from a leg

of a Chinese soldier’s corpse

I dream of human legs rolling around I dream it to this day

I scream to wake myself up Mother Izumi

he was kind to me I told him about my thoughts of suicide

He was surprised so surprised

he sent me home sent me letters

I did not reply. I had my new life to live:

as a washerwoman, a street peddler and I did other things too

but Mother, the hardest time was when I was dreaming of suicide

while soldiers were standing in line to satisfy their lust

in the ruined village

when I was dreaming of legs that could not go anywhere.


Kim Yoon-shim

An automobile drove up the road, something I had never seen

before. The driver let me climb up and the truck rolled on

then kept on going

and going and I begged them

to take me back but I was thrown

into a cargo train a cargo ship Harbin

a comfort station where three truckloads

of soldiers arrived One by one they raped all

night long with filthy wordless bodies

my child’s body

they impregnated girls and still forced sex

When a child was born

a blue-uniformed woman put the body

in a sack and carried it away

soldiers used the “sack” saku

From these reused condoms girls got sick

When a girl got too sick

a guard wrapped her body

in a blanket and carried her away

Such was our life

look at my fingers

when I ran away the police smashed my hands

weaving a stiff pen between my fingers

like this.

Another year passed

like this.

In June 1945

when the camp seemed deserted

I escaped and ran all night

in a month I reached Korean shores

In Harbin, I saw at a stream a hand

of a sick girl

who had been buried alive.

In my dreams, she is still reaching

toward wider waters

my hands with their crooked fingers

cannot help her


Pak Kyung-soon

There was a man about 45 years of age with a mustache

who told me to work for Japan

and meet my brother in Hiroshima

The man said my refusal might not be good for my parents

The man and his men took me to Shimonoseki

I was led into a room I was told to take a bath I was told

to take off my clothes

I only begged that I meet my brother

When they finally took me to Hiroshima, my brother was alone

in a big, empty room he asked if I came

as a “comfort woman” and I promised

I would return

to see him again

when flower buds were about to appear

I was taken to Osaka In its room

I was Number 10 I was then

a “comfort woman”

I became so sick with syphilis I could not walk

One night an officer came and told me to get ready

I was in such great pain the next thing I remember

is arriving in Seoul It was June 1945

Immediately I had a miscarriage

The mustached man learned of my return

told me to return to the “comfort station”

To avoid the draft again I got married

our new life a rented room

I could smell the odor of my weekly “#606”

arsenic for syphilis

My baby discharged pus from his ears

was called crazy

My brother returned home with burns and lumps

all over his body from radiation

discharged disintegrated bone

the size of teeth near his wounds

The Japanese soldiers discharged

discharge out of charge into

every room

EMILY JUNGMIN YOON is the author of A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco, 2018) and Ordinary Misfortunes (Tupelo, 2017), winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Prize. She is the Poetry Editor for the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD student in Korean literature at the University of Chicago.