The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Saturday, April 26, 2008

                  Li-Young Lee

                 In sixth grade Mrs Walker
                 slapped the back of my head
                 and made me stand in the corner
                 for not knowing the difference
                 between persimmon and precision.
                 How to choose
                 persimmons.  This is precision.
                 Ripe ones are soft and brown- spotted.
                 Sniff the bottoms.  The sweet one
                 will be fragrant.  How to eat:
                 put the knife away, lay down newspaper.
                 Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
                 Chew the skin, suck it,
                 and swallow.  Now, eat
                 the meat of the fruit,
                 so sweet, 
                 all of it, to the heart.

                 Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
                 In the yard, dewy and shivering
                 with crickets, we lie naked,
                 face-up, face-down.
                 I teach her Chinese.
                 Crickets:  chiu chiu.  Dew:  I've forgotten.
                 Naked:  I've forgotten.
                 Ni, wo:  you and me.
                 I part her legs,
                 remember to tell her
                 she is beautiful as the moon.

                 Other words
                 that got me into trouble were
                 fight and fright, wren and yarn.
                 Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
                 fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
                 Wrens are small, plain birds,
                 yarn is what one knits with.
                 Wrens are soft as yarn.
                 My mother made birds out of yarn.
                 I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
                 a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

                 Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
                 and cut it up
                 so everyone could taste
                 a Chinese apple.  Knowing
                 it wasn't ripe or sweet, I didn't eat
                 but watched the other faces.

                  My mother said every persimmon has a sun
                  inside, something golden, glowing,
                  warm as my face.

                  Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper,
                  forgotten and not yet ripe.
                  I took them and set both on my bedroom windowsill,
                  where each morning a cardinal
                  sang, The sun, the sun.

                  Finally understanding
                  he was going blind,
                  my father sat up all one night
                  waiting for a song, a ghost.
                  I gave him the persimmons,
                  swelled, heavy as sadness,
                  and sweet as love.

                  This year, in the muddy lighting
                   of my parent's cellar, I rummage, looking
                   for something I lost.
                  My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
                  black cane between his knees,
                  hand over hand, gripping the handle.

                  He's so happy that I've come home.
                  I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
                  All gone, he answers.

                  Under some blankets, I find a box.
                  Inside the box I find three scrolls.
                  I sit beside him and untie
                  three paintings by my father:
                  Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
                  Two cats preening.
                  Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

                  He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
                  ask, Which is this?

                  This is persimmon, Father.

                   Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
                   the strength, the tense
                   precision in the wrist.
                   I painted them hundreds of times
                   eyes closed.  These I painted blind.
                   Some things never leave a person:
                   scent of the hair of the one you love,
                   the texture of persimmons,
                   in your palm, the ripe weight.

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