Friday, March 18, 2011

No Dark Out There

Poet Li-Young Lee has an interesting background. He is Indonesian-born, the son of Chinese parents. His grandfather was China's first Republican President (and he also attempted to make himself emperor). Lee's father was a personal physician to Mao Tse-tung. After being exiled to Indonesia, his father spent 19 months in a prison camp. When Lee's family left Indonesia, they spent years journeying through Hong Kong and Japan, and finally arrived in the United States in 1964. Lee was seven years old at that time. (For more information about Lee, see the links at the bottom...)

from The Children's Hour
by Li-Young Lee

Soldiers with guns are at our door again.
Sister, quick. Change into a penny.
I'll fold you in a handkerchief,
put you in my pocket
and jump inside a sack,
one of the uncooked rice.

Brother, hurry. Turn yourself
into one of our mother's dolls
on the living room shelf. I'll be the dust
settling on your eyelids.

Read the rest here.

* *

bits and pieces of
Dreaming Of Hair
by Li-Young Lee

...Hair spills
through my dream, sprouts
from my stomach, thickens my heart,
and tangles from the brain. Hair ties the tongue dumb.
Hair ascends the tree
of my childhood--the willow
I climbed
one bare foot and hand at a time,
feeling the knuckles of the gnarled tree, hearing
my father plead from his window, "Don't fall!"

What sprouts from the body
and touches the body?
What filters sunlight
and drinks moonlight?
Where have I misplaced my heart?
What stops wheels and great machines?
What tangles in the bough
and snaps the loom?

Sometimes my love is melancholy
and I hold her head in my hands.
Sometimes I recall our hair grows after death.
Then, I must grab handfuls
of her hair, and, I tell you, there
are apples, walnuts, ships sailing, ships docking, and men
taking off their boots, their hearts breaking,
not knowing
which they love more, the water, or
their women's hair, sprouting from the head, rushing toward the feet.

You can read it in its entirety here.

* *

from Living With Her
by Li-Young Lee

...She walks
her path the years sown behind her.

She sleeps.
And her sleep becomes
the river I build
my house beside.

So, on which bank of the river
am I now, waking or dreaming?

She says, Come away from the window. Lie down.
There’s no dark out there that isn’t first in you.

* *

from Self-Help for Fellow Refugees
by Li-Young Lee

...Very likely, your ancestors decorated
their bells of every shape and size
with elaborate calendars
and diagrams of distance star systems,
but with no maps for scattered descendants.

* *

A quote from an informal poetry colloquium at Stanford:

Q: What was your father's influence on you?
Li-Young Lee: It's a Taoist thing—
My father told me that humans take 15,000 breaths a day.
When I inhale, I say "Thank you"
When I exhale, I say "Good-bye"


* You can read the entirety of Living With Her and Self-Help for Refugees at the PBS site.
* A conversation between Li-Young Lee and Tina Chang
* An interview with Li-Young Lee on Poets & Writers
* A Table in the Wilderness by Li-Young Lee (poem)
* Book of My Nights by Li-Young Lee (book)

Andi at A Wrung Sponge has the Poetry Friday round-up today.


Heidi Mordhorst said...

All I can say this morning is "oooh." Thanks for reminding me of this man and his work. My favorite is the first, with its folktale solutions to real-life threats.

I've just realized that I'm surprised not to find your work in the MWA anthology. And did you submit to the Bethesda Lit Fest contest?

jama said...

Thanks for the sampler! I do enjoy his poetry a lot -- my favorite is also the first one. :)

Diane Mayr said...

She says, Come away from the window. Lie down.
There’s no dark out there that isn’t first in you.

Wow! I'll have spend a little time with this writer!

Tara said...

Powerful poems - I loved the first, which connected to so much that is going on in the world today. Thanks for sharing these!

Mary Lee said...

"When I inhale, I say "Thank you"
When I exhale, I say "Good-bye" "


This poet is new to me, but is now on my tbr list! Thanks for the stretch!

Carlie said...

Never heard of this guy! So cool! And what a wild life-story he has. I loved so many bits of these poems that it is hard to quote them all here for your mutual enjoyment.

I do have to say though, being a woman of long hair who has been known to shed long strands all over everything, it does make me smile to read that second poem. I am sending it to my husband in an email.:)