– the gift

Bringing the best of the old to the new, I hope.

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.

Li-Young Lee from The Rose , 1986.

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3 Comments on “– the gift”

  1. TOS Says:

    I’m speechless. The first six lines of the second stanza are pure. Beautiful poems like this are only possible, I think, only when the mind falls asleep behind the wheel, and the heart leans over, opens the door, and shoves it out onto the street, while still maintaining control of the poetic vehicle. Not easy. The mind always wants to drive.

    Then, it needs to be mentioned, on the rare occasions that the heart does wrest control, no one can be certain where it’s going to want to go. Far more often than not, the destination is at the bottom of a gooey lake of tired and overly sentimental verbosity.

    Li-Young Lee is to be commended for creating a piece of unadorned beauty.

    As is Lizardrinking for finding and posting it.

  2. the best of the old is still you – but this i’m glad to see over here. thank you darling rose, for sharing this yet again.

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