This Room and Everything in It

By Li-Young Lee b. 1957 Li-Young Lee
Lie still now
while I prepare for my future,
certain hard days ahead,
when I’ll need what I know so clearly 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 spacious notes   
of a moment ago,   
stand for distance.

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

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 face
I can’t see, my soul,

and so on, each thing
standing for a separate 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.

Li-Young Lee, “This Room and Everything in It” from The City in Which I Love You. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions Ltd.,

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, Home Life, Death, Youth, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Li-Young  Lee


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, Home Life, Death, Youth, Living, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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