This Hour and What Is Dead

By Li-Young Lee b. 1957 Li-Young Lee
Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?   
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?   
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless   
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed   
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like his sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven. But the needle pierces   
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

At this hour, what is dead is worried   
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking   
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath   
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.   
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind   
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.   
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.


Li-Young Lee, “This Hour and What Is Dead” from The City in Which I Love You. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Source: The City In Which I Love You (BOA Editions Ltd., 1990)

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Poet Li-Young Lee b. 1957

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Death, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Li-Young  Lee

Biography

Li-Young Lee was born in Djakarta, Indonesia in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. Both of Lee’s parents came from powerful Chinese families: Lee’s great grandfather was the first president of the Republic of China, and Lee’s father had been the personal physician to Mao Tse-tsung. In Indonesia, Dr. Lee helped found Gamaliel University. Anti-Chinese sentiment began to foment in Indonesia, however, and Lee’s father was arrested . . .

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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Death, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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