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LEE, Li-Young


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.



I Loved You Before I Was Born


I loved you before I was born.

It doesn't make sense, I know.


I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.

And I've lived longing

for your ever look ever since.

That longing entered time as this body.

And the longing grew as this body waxed.

And the longing grows as the body wanes.

The longing will outlive this body.


I loved you before I was born.

It doesn't make sense, I know.


Long before eternity, I caught a glimpse

of your neck and shoulders, your ankles and toes.

And I've been lonely for you from that instant.

That loneliness appeared on earth as this body.

And my share of time has been nothing

but your name outrunning my ever saying it clearly.

Your face fleeing my ever

kissing it firmly once on the mouth.


In longing, I am most myself, rapt,

my lamp mortal, my light

hidden and singing.


I give you my blank heart.

Please write on it

what you wish.