Arise, Go Down

By Li-Young Lee b. 1957 Li-Young Lee
It wasn’t the bright hems of the Lord’s skirts   
that brushed my face and I opened my eyes   
to see from a cleft in rock His backside;

it’s a wasp perched on my left cheek. I keep   
my eyes closed and stand perfectly still   
in the garden till it leaves me alone,

not to contemplate how this century   
ends and the next begins with no one
I know having seen God, but to wonder

why I get through most days unscathed, though I   
live in a time when it might be otherwise,   
and I grow more fatherless each day.

For years now I have come to conclusions   
without my father’s help, discovering
on my own what I know, what I don’t know,

and seeing how one cancels the other.
I've become a scholar of cancellations.   
Here, I stand among my father’s roses

and see that what punctures outnumbers what
consoles, the cruel and the tender never
make peace, though one climbs, though one descends

petal by petal to the hidden ground   
no one owns. I see that which is taken   
away by violence or persuasion.

The rose announces on earth the kingdom   
of gravity. A bird cancels it.   
My eyelids cancel the bird. Anything

might cancel my eyes: distance, time, war.   
My father said, Never take your both eyes   
off of the world, before he rocked me.

All night we waited for the knock
that would have signalled, All clear, come now;   
it would have meant escape; it never came.

I didn’t make the world I leave you with,   
he said, and then, being poor, he left me   
only this world, in which there is always

a family waiting in terror
before they’re rended, this world wherein a man   
might arise, go down, and walk along a path

and pause and bow to roses, roses
his father raised, and admire them, for one moment   
unable, thank God, to see in each and
every flower the world cancelling itself.


Li-Young Lee, “Arise, Go Down” 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, Time & Brevity, Religion, Living, Relationships

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 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, Time & Brevity, Religion, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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