I Ask My Mother to Sing

By Li-Young Lee b. 1957 Li-Young Lee
She begins, and my grandmother joins her.
Mother and daughter sing like young girls.
If my father were alive, he would play
his accordion and sway like a boat.

I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,
nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch
the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers
running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;
how the waterlilies fill with rain until
they overturn, spilling water into water,
then rock back, and fill with more.

Both women have begun to cry.
But neither stops her song.

Poem copyright ©1986 by Li-Young Lee, whose most recent book of poems is Behind My Eyes, BOA Editions, Ltd., 2009. Poem reprinted by permission of Li-Young Lee and the publisher.

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Poet Li-Young Lee b. 1957

 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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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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