I flushed twin doves
from my father’s unmown field.
I missed them with my rocks and sling,
but brought them to their knees
with a shout of my father’s name.This was before rivers had names
other than names for my father.
It was even before there were numbers,
those fearsome first angels.
Well before the wind learned to speak
in the past tense,
long before it started crossing
into the future
by leaving behind all of its faces but one.Watching my quarry tumble down the sky,
I began to long
to be born, to become
one of the heirs to the sorrows
of hunger, the rites of slaughter,
and the several names of desire and death.The nearer I came to the place
where my game lay stunned, the more I yearned
for a new reckoning of fire and clay,
a new ratio of body and song,
just proportions of world and cry.By the time I knelt over my spoil,
all of the light had withdrawn
to above the trees
and become an immense, bright ghost in the sky.In the rearing shadow of the earth,
I stood up, my voice fugitive, my name vagabond,
a cursed and grieving brother
of every winged thing.Inheritor of the sign of the violent
and the victim,
I awaited my true bride.
Copyright © 2018 by Li-Young Lee
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission
The Undressing is a tonic for spiritual anemia; it attempts to uncover things hidden since the dawn of the world. Short of achieving that end, these mysterious, unassuming poems investigate the human violence and dispossession increasingly prevalent around the world, as well as the horrors the poet grew up with as a child of refugees. Lee draws from disparate sources, including the Old Testament, the Dao De Jing, and the music of the Wu Tang Clan. While the ostensive subjects of these layered, impassioned poems are wide-ranging, their driving engine is a burning need to understand our collective human mission.