My Father, in Heaven, Is Reading Out Loud
My father, in heaven, is reading out loud
to himself Psalms or news. Now he ponders what
he’s read. No. He is listening for the sound
of children in the yard. Was that laughing
or crying? So much depends upon the
answer, for either he will go on reading,
or he’ll run to save a child’s day from grief.
As it is in heaven, so it was on earth.
Because my father walked the earth with a grave,
determined rhythm, my shoulders ached
from his gaze. Because my father’s shoulders
ached from the pulling of oars, my life now moves
with a powerful back-and-forth rhythm:
nostalgia, speculation. Because he
made me recite a book a month, I forget
everything as soon as I read it. And knowledge
never comes but while I’m mid-stride a flight
of stairs, or lost a moment on some avenue.
A remarkable disappointment to him,
I am like anyone who arrives late
in the millennium and is unable
to stay to the end of days. The world’s
beginnings are obscure to me, its outcomes
inaccessible. I don’t understand
the source of starlight, or starlight’s destinations.
And already another year slides out
of balance. But I don’t disparage scholars;
my father was one and I loved him,
who packed his bags once, and all of our belongings,
then sat down to await instruction
from his god, yes, but also from a radio.
At the doorway, I watched, and I suddenly
knew he was one like me, who got my learning
under a lintel; he was one of the powerless,
to whom knowledge came while he sat among
suitcases, boxes, old newspapers, string.
He did not decide peace or war, home or exile,
escape by land or escape by sea.
He waited merely, as always someone
waits, far, near, here, hereafter, to find out:
is it praise or lament hidden in the next moment?
Li-Young Lee is the author of three poetry collections: Rose, The City in Which I Love You, and Book of My Nights, all published by Boa Editions. He is also the author of a book-length prose poem, The Winged Seed (Simon and Schuster, cloth; Ruminator Books, paperback). He has been the recipient of many literary awards, most recently The Lannon Foundation Literary Award, The American Book Award of the Before Columbus Foundation, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award, and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award. He lives with his wife and two sons in Chicago.