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Category archive for: Li-Young Lee

Eating Together

In the steamer is the trout

seasoned with slivers of ginger,

two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.

We shall eat it with rice for lunch,

brothers, sister, my mother who will

taste the sweetest meat of the head,

holding it between her fingers

deftly, the way my father did

weeks ago. Then he lay down

to sleep like a snow-covered road

winding through pines older than him,

without any travelers, and lonely for no one.

from RoseFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1986
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

The Gift

To pull the metal splinter from my palm

my father recited a story in a low voice.

I watched his lovely face and not the blade.

Before the story ended, he’d removed

the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.

I can’t remember the tale,

but hear his voice still, a well

of dark water, a prayer.

And I recall his hands,

two measures of tenderness

he laid against my face,

the flames of discipline

he raised above my head.

Had you entered that afternoon

you would have thought you saw a man

planting something in a boy’s palm,

a silver tear, a tiny flame.

Had you followed that boy

you would have arrived here,

where I bend over my wife’s right hand.

Look how I shave her thumbnail down

so carefully she feels no pain.

Watch as I lift the splinter out.

I was seven when my father

took my hand like this,

and I did not hold that shard

between my fingers and think,

Metal that will bury me,

christen it Little Assassin,

Ore Going Deep for My Heart.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,

Death visited here!

I did what a child does

when he’s given something to keep.

I kissed my father.

from RoseFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1986
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Persimmons

In sixth grade Mrs. Walker

slapped the back of my head

and made me stand in the corner

for not knowing the difference

between persimmon and precision.

How to choose

persimmons. This is precision.

Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.

Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one

will be fragrant. How to eat:

put the knife away, lay down newspaper.

Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.

Chew the skin, suck it,

and swallow. Now, eat

the meat of the fruit,

so sweet,

all of it, to the heart.

Donna undresses, her stomach is white.

In the yard, dewy and shivering

with crickets, we lie naked,

face-up, face-down.

I teach her Chinese.

Crickets:     chiu chiu. Dew:   I’ve forgotten.

Naked:    I’ve forgotten.

Ni, wo:    you and me.

I part her legs,

remember to tell her

she is beautiful as the moon.

Other words

that got me into trouble were

fight and fright, wren and yarn.

Fight was what I did when I was frightened,

fright was what I felt when I was fighting.

Wrens are small, plain birds,

yarn is what one knits with.

Wrens are soft as yarn.

My mother made birds out of yarn.

I loved to watch her tie the stuff;

a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class

and cut it up

so everyone could taste

a Chinese apple. Knowing

it wasn’t ripe or sweet, I didn’t eat

but watched the other faces.

My mother said every persimmon has a sun

inside, something golden, glowing,

warm as my face.

Once in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,

forgotten and not yet ripe.

I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,

where each morning a cardinal

sang, The sun, the sun.

Finally understanding

he was going blind,

my father sat up all one night

waiting for a song, a ghost.

I gave him the persimmons,

swelled, heavy as sadness,

and sweet as love.

this year, in the muddy lighting

of my parents’ cellar, I rummage, looking

for something I lost.

My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,

black cane between his knees,

hand over hand, gripping the handle.

He’s so happy that I’ve come home.

I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.

All gone, he answers.

Under some blankets, I find a box.

Inside the box I find three scrolls.

I sit beside him and untie

three paintings by my father:

Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.

Two cats preening.

Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

He raises both hands to touch the cloth,

asks, Which is this?

This is persimmons, Father.

Oh the feel of the wolftail on the silk,

the strength, the tense

precision in the wrist.

I painted them hundreds of times

eyes closed. These I painted blind.

Some things never leave a person:

sent of the hair of one you love,

the texture of persimmons,

in your palm, the ripe weight.

from RoseFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 1986
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

Words for Worry

Another word for father is worry.

Worry boils the water

for tea in the middle of the night.

Worry trimmed the child’s nails before

singing him to sleep.

Another word for son is delight,

another word, hidden.

And another is One-Who-Goes-Away.

Yet another, One-Who-Returns.

So many words for son:

He-Dreams-for-All-Our-Sakes.

His-Play-Vouchsafes-Our-Winter-Share.

His-Dispersal-Wins-the-Birds.

But only one word for father.

And sometimes a man is both.

Which is to say sometimes a man

manifests mysteries beyond

his own understanding.

For instance, being the one and the many,

and the loneliness of either. Or

the living light we see by, we never see. Or

the sole word weighs

heavy as a various name.

And sleepless worry folds the laundry for tomorrow.

Tired worry wakes the child for school.

Orphan worry writes the note he hides

in the child’s lunch bag.

It begins, Dear Firefly….

from Book of My NightsFind it in the library

Copyright © BOA Editions, Ltd 2001
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of BOA Editions LTD.

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