The sound of rain outlives us

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

There are days we live as if death were nowhere

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.

but remembering is steam and engine

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.