Lately, I’ve been re-reading a favorite book of poetry: Li-Young Lee’s The City in Which I Love You. He is a really great poet, for all of you out there who don’t read a lot of poetry, his work is really accessable to prose readers. This is because he uses language in a straightforward and appealing way, he has a strong voice, and his poetry has a narrative bent to it.

His poetry is haunted by his father, whose presence floats in and out of the stanzas of a lot of his work. This presence has a tendancy to draw his collections together in a satisfying way, but it does sometimes leave you with the feeling of deja vu’ overload.

A lot of his poetry, especially in this book, also has to do with love. I can remember the first time I read his work. I had seen a poem of his I liked in a poetry journal. I can’t reacall what one, and headed thru the library to find his work. This was the first book of his that I picked up. I was drawn to it because I, too, often think of love as a city. Everyone’s city looks different. Like the city on the cover of his book, mine has walls. There are no roads, just narrow, vacant sidewalks. It is a city that changes day to day. There are days when it is quite populous.

That is not what this post is about, though. This is a post about the book. I wanted to include one of his poems. It is called This Room and Everything in It and it is on page 49 of the ’90 first edition of this book.

Lie still now
while I prepare for my future,
certain hard days ahead,
when I’ll need what I know so clearly in this moment.

I am making use
of the one thing I learned
of all the things my father tried to teach me:
the art of memory.

I am letting this room
and everything in it
stand for my ideas about love
and its difficulties.

I’ll let your love-cries,
those precious notes
of a moment ago,
stand for distance.

Your scent,
that scent
of spice and a wound,
I’ll let stand for mystry.

Your sunken belly
is the daily cup
of milk I drank
as a boy before morning prayer.

The sun on the face
of the wall
is God, the facei
I can’t see, my soul,

and so on, each thing
standing for a seperate idea,
and those ideas forming the constellation
of my greater idea.
And one day, when I need
to tell myself something intelligent
about love,

I’ll close my eyes
and recall this room and everything in it:
my body is estrangement.
This desire, perfection.
Your closed eyes my extinction.
Now I’ve forgotten my
idea. The book
on the windowsill, riffled by wind…
the even-numbered pages are
the past, the odd-
numbered pages, the future.
The sun is
God, your body is milk…

useless, useless…
your cries are song, my body’s not me…
no good… my idea
has evaporated… your hair is time, your thighs are song…
it had something to do
with death… it had something
to do with love.

1 Comment

Filed under literature, lust and love, poetry

One response to “Reading…

  1. oh, i love that book 🙂 i was just re-reading this poem the other day.

    i went to a reading of lee’s a couple years ago here in indy and it was probably the first reading i’d been to post-denison where it wasn’t all college kids and there were all theses middle-aged housewife-type women there giggling and fawning over him in the front row like groupees. it was pretty funny but i guess poems like this do make the ladies swoon!

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