THREE POEMS BY LI-YOUNG LEE
In His Own Shadow
He is seated in the first darkness
of his body sitting in the lighter dark
of the room,
the greater light of day behind him,
beyond the windows, where
Time is the country.
His body throws two shadows:
One onto the table
and the piece of paper before him,
and one onto his mind.
One makes it difficult for him to see
the words he’s written and crossed out
on the paper. The other
keeps him from recognizing
another master than Death. He squints.
He reads: Does the first light hide
inside the first dark?
He reads: While all bodies Share
the same fate, all voices do not.
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 homesickness).
Then you’ll know the answer.
Wait for the air’s first gold (that color of Amen).
Then you’ll spy the wind’s 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 books of candles,
each page read by the light of its own burning.
That sparrow on the iron railing,
Not worth a farthing, purchases a realm
Its shrill cries measure, trading
Dying for being.
It’s up to no good,
Out to overturn a kingdom
Just by swooping into the right kitchen,
Or upsetting somebody’s aim.
For my pleasure, I’ll call it Good News,
Or Little Egypt. For my delight,
I’ll think of it as needle and thread.
Or a breathing remnant
Restored to a living cloth.
To allow for everything I don’t know.
For my happiness, I’ll call it
Pocket Dictionary Full of Words in Another Language.
For my gladness, Feathered Interval, The Deciding Gram,
For nothing, Monument to the Nano.
*all from Behind My Eyes, W. W. Norton, 2008.