Black Petal

Li-Young Lee

 
I never claimed night fathered me.
that was my dead brother talking in his sleep.
I keep him under my pillow, a dear wish
that colors my laughing and crying.
I never said the wind, remembering nothing,
leaves so many rooms unaccounted for,
continual farewell must ransom
the unmistakable fragrance
our human days afford.
It was my brother, little candle in the pulpit,
reading out loud to all of earth
from the book of night.
He died too young to learn his name.
Now he answers to Vacant Boat,
Burning Wing, My Black Petal.
Ask him who his mother is. He'll declare the birds
have eaten the path home, but each of us
joins night's ongoing story
wherever night overtakes him,
the heart astonished to find belonging
and thanks answering thanks.
Ask if he's hungry or thirsty,
he'll say he's the bread come to pass
and draw you a map
to the twelve secret hips of honey.
Does someone want to know the way to spring?
He'll remind you
the flower was never meant to survive
the fruit's triumph.
He says an apple's most secret cargo
is the enduring odor of a human childhood,
our mother's linen pressed and stored, our father's voice
walking through the rooms.
He says he's forgiven our sister
for playing dead and making him cry
those afternoons we were left alone in the house.
And when clocks frighten me with their long hair,
and when I spy the wind's numerous hands
in the orchard unfastening
first the petals from the buds,
then the perfume from the flesh,
my dead brother ministers to me. His voice
weighs nothing
but the far years between
stars in their massive dying,
and I grow quiet hearing
how many of both of our tomorrows
lie waiting inside it to be born.
 
From Book of My Nights (BOA, 2001) by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2001. Appears with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

Poems by This Author

A Story by Li-Young Lee
Sad is the man who is asked for a story
A Table in the Wilderness by Li-Young Lee
I draw a window
Arise, Go Down by Li-Young Lee
It wasn’t the bright hems of the Lord’s skirts
Eating Alone by Li-Young Lee
I've pulled the last of the year's young onions
Eating Together by Li-Young Lee
In the steamer is the trout
From Blossoms by Li-Young Lee
From blossoms comes
Immigrant Blues by Li-Young Lee
People have been trying to kill me since I was born
Little Father by Li-Young Lee
I buried my father
Mnemonic by Li-Young Lee
I was tired. So I lay down
Persimmons by Li-Young Lee
In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
Pillow by Li-Young Lee
There's nothing I can't find under there
The Children's Hour by Li-Young Lee
Soldiers with guns are at our door again
The Cleaving by Li-Young Lee
He gossips like my grandmother, this man
The Gift by Li-Young Lee
To pull the metal splinter from my palm
The Hammock by Li-Young Lee
When I lay my head in my mother's lap
The Hour and What Is Dead by Li-Young Lee
Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking


Further Reading

Spring
Endymion, Book I, [A thing of beauty is a joy for ever]
by John Keats
The Winter's Tale Act IV, Scene II [When daffodils begin to peer]
by William Shakespeare
A Blessing
by James Wright
After dark vapors have oppress'd our plains
by John Keats
Alcove
by John Ashbery
Another Attempt at Rescue
by M. L. Smoker
Birds Again
by Jim Harrison
Butterfly Catcher
by Tina Cane
Chansons Innocentes: I
by E. E. Cummings
City That Does Not Sleep
by Federico García Lorca
Diary [Surface]
by Rachel Zucker
Each year
by Dora Malech
From you have I been absent in the spring... (Sonnet 98)
by William Shakespeare
Hustlers with Bad Timing
by D. A. Powell
If a Wilderness
by Carl Phillips
In cold spring air
by Reginald Gibbons
In the Memphis Airport
by Timothy Steele
Lines Written in Early Spring
by William Wordsworth
Magdalen Walks
by Oscar Wilde
Morning News
by Marilyn Hacker
National Poetry Month
by Elaine Equi
Papyrus
by Ezra Pound
Prologue of the Earthly Paradise
by William Morris
Song On May Morning
by John Milton
Spring
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Spring
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Spring and All [By the road to the contagious hospital]
by William Carlos Williams
Spring Day [Bath]
by Amy Lowell
Spring in New Hampshire
by Claude McKay
Spring is like a perhaps hand
by E. E. Cummings
spring love noise and all [excerpt]
by David Antin
Spring Snow
by Arthur Sze
Spring Song
by Sherwood Anderson
Spring Storm
by William Carlos Williams
Springing
by Marie Ponsot
The Enkindled Spring
by D. H. Lawrence
The Magpie's Shadow
by Yvor Winters
Thinking of Madame Bovary
by Jane Kenyon
Two Sewing
by Hazel Hall
Under the Willows [May is a pious fraud of the almanac]
by James Russell Lowell
Vernal Equinox
by Amy Lowell
[O were my love yon Lilac fair]
by Robert Burns