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Posts Tagged ‘Li-Young Lee’

This gorgeously layered Li-Young Lee (1957-) poem felt right for this rainy day in a draught-stricken landscape, in any landscape really.

lylee

“Water”

The sound of 36 pines side by side surrounding
the yard and swaying all night like individual hymns is the sound
of water, which is the oldest sound,
the first sound we forgot.

At the ocean
my brother stands in water
to his knees, his chest bare, hard, his arm
thick and muscular. He is no swimmer.
In water
my sister is no longer
lonely. Her right leg is crooked and smaller
than her left, but she swims straight.
Her whole body is a glimmering fish.

Water is my father’s life-sign.
Son of water who’ll die by water,
the element which rules his life shall take it.
After being told so by a wise man in Shantung,
after almost drowning twice,
he avoided water. But the sign of water
is a flowing sign, going where its children go.

Water has invaded my father’s
heart, swollen, heavy,
twice as large. Bloated
liver. Bloated legs.
The feet have become balloons.
A respirator mask makes him look
like a diver. When I lay my face
against his—the sound of water
returning.

The sound of washing
is the sound of sighing,
is the only sound
as I wash my father’s feet—
those lonely twins
who have forgotten one another—
one by one in warm water
I tested with my wrist.
In soapy water
they’re two dumb fish
whose eyes close in a filmy dream.

I dry, then powder them
with talc rising in clouds
like dust lifting
behind jeeps, a truck where he sat
bleeding through his socks.
1949, he’s 30 years old,
his toenails pulled out, his toes beaten a beautiful
violet that reminds him
of Hunan, barely morning
in the yard, and where
he walked, the grass springing back
damp and green.

The sound of rain
outlives us. I listen,
someone is whispering.
Tonight, it’s water
the curtains resemble, water
drumming on the steel cellar door, water
we crossed to come to America,
water I’ll cross to go back,
water which will kill my father.
The sac of water we live in

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Happy summer, readers. This achingly beautiful poem is brought to you by Li-Young Lee and the bag of peaches I purchased from the farmers’ market this morning.

photo (6)

“From Blossoms”

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

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Hauntingly beautiful verse from Li-Young Lee (1957- ).

“Every Circle Wider”

Silver, the women sing of their bodies
and the men. Darker, the men sing
of their ancestors and the women.
Darkest is the children’s ambition
to sing every circle wider. Dying,

each sings at the edge of what he knows,
pregnant with the unknown, that chasm
sustained trembling (called singing) makes visible
by over-leaping

Criminal, my recalling that country’s songs
and never intending to go back. No word
comes from there, but remembering
is steam and engine, my voice
filling and emptying as I sing:

The world is full of people
and no one at all.

The world is full of horns,
and none of them are to be found.

The world is full of rooms
and no place to remain.

The world is full of light,
but no one’s seen a thing.

The world is all dark, yet a hand
finds its way to other hands,
a mouth its way to other mouths.

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“Become Becoming”

by Li-Young Lee (1957- )

Wait for evening.
Then you’ll be alone.

Wait for the playground to empty.
Then call out those companions from childhood:

The one who closed his eyes
and pretended to be invisible.
The one to whom you told every secret.
The one who made a world of any hiding place.

And don’t forget the one who listened in silence
while you wondered out loud:

Is the universe an empty mirror? A flowering tree?
Is the universe the sleep of a woman?

Wait for the sky’s last blue
(the color of your homesickness).
Then you’ll know the answer.

Wait for the air’s first gold (that color of Amen).
Then you’ll spy the wind’ barefoot steps.

Then you’ll recall that story beginning
with a child who strays in the woods.

The search for him goes on in the growing
shadow of the clock.

And the face behind the clock’s face
is not his father’s face.

And the hands behind the clock’s hands
are not his mother’s hands.

All of Time began when you first answered
to the names your mother and father gave you.

Soon, those names will travel with the leaves.
Then, you can trade places with the wind.

Then you’ll remember your life
as a book of candles,
each page read by the light of its own burning.

from Behind My Eyes

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If you have a moment, listen to Li-Young Lee (1957-) read his poem before, after, or while you read it…

“To Hold”

So we’re dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I’m lucky,
she’ll remember a recent dream and tell me.

One day we’ll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.

Until then, we’ll go on learning to recognize
what we love, and what it takes
to tend what isn’t for our having.
So often, fear has led me
to abandon what I know I must relinquish
in time. But for the moment,
I’ll listen to her dream,
and she to mine, our mutual hearing calling
more and more detail into the light
of a joint and fragile keeping.

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Am really digging Li Young Lee  (1957-) these days. I am intrigued by this somewhat surreal poem about language and relationships from his latest collection Behind My Eyes.

Li-Young Lee's Behind My Eyes

“Sweet Peace in Time”

I said, “What if by story you mean the shortcut home,
but I mean voices in a room by the sea
while days go by
?”

She said,” Open, The Word is a child of eternity.
Closed, the Word is a child of Time.”

I said, “And what if by dream you mean to comb
the knots out of your hair,

to prune the orchard
and correct the fruit,

but I mean to travel
by rain crossing the sea, or apple blossoms
traversing a stone threshold
with a word carved into it:
Abyss?”

She said, “Home, speech is the living purchase
of our nights and days.

A traveler, it is a voice in its own lifetime.

A river, it is Time sifted, Time manifest,
laughter that sires the rocks and trees,
that fetches in its ancient skirts
the fateful fruits and seeds.”

I said, “And what if when I say, Song,
you hear, A wing

executing boundary by sounding
the rage of its hunting
,

but I mean Time and the World
measured by a voice’s passage?

She said, “Empty, The Word is a wind in the trees.

Full it is the voice of a woman
reading out loud from a book of names.”

I said, “To speak is to err.
Words name nothing.
There are no words.”

She said, “Lure, slaughter, feast, blood
in the throat, words turn, changing.”

I said, “We should give up
trying to speak or to be understood.
It’s too late in the world for dialogue.

Death creates a blind spot.
Man is a secret, blind to himself.
And woman…Woman is…”

She said,” Our meeting here manifests
a primordial threshold.

A first and last place, speech
is no place at all, a shelter, ark, and cradle;

salt but not salt, bread but not bread,
a house but no house.”

I said, “The garden was ruined long before
we came to make a world of it.”

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