by Li-Young Lee
God slips His likeness of me under His pillow.
Morning grows cloudy, the house darkens,
and I know what the rain at the sill is saying:
Be finished with resemblances. Your lamp
hides the light. A voice, being a voice and not the wind,
can’t carry anything away. And yet,
it makes any land a place, a country of the air,
and laughter its seventh day.
Last night I dreamed of voices in a grove.
Ladders reaching from the ground into the branches.
I was mending my children’s shirts, worrying if the light would last
long enough for me to thread the needle.
Now I’m nodding with the trees in the wind,
counting seconds between the lightning and the thunder,
deaf to former things, unencumbered of things to come,
and leaving God to recoup
a human fate.
God snores, His sleep immense
and musty with the season’s litter.
God rolls over in His sleep
and churns the sea-bed
to dislodge many buried keys.
Outside, a bird is telling time’s green name.
It stops when I stop to listen,
and starts again as soon as I give up
holding my breath to hear it,
as though whole-hearted listening intrudes
where hearing ajar makes room for singing
so tender my attention snuffs it,
or else so brimming
my ear’s least turning spills it.
God takes out again that portrait
he makes of me each day, now adding, now erasing,
and time is a black butterfly, pinned
while someone searches for its name in a book.
First published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Fall/Winter 2012 (Vol. 29, No. 3 & 4). Republished in Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Winter/Spring 2012 (Vol. 40, Nos. 1 & 2)
Among Li-Young Lee‘s many awards are the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award for his third book, Book of My Nights, and the American Book Award for his memoir, The Winged Seed. His most recent book is Behind My Eyes.