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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, December 20, 2017.
About this Poem 
“I heard Kishori Amonkar singing on the album Great Jugalbandis, and I was moved to ecstatic grief. Her singing was so filled with insight and revelation, I suddenly understood in an instant so many things I'd been troubled by and wondering about all my life. I aspire to what she does.”
—Li-Young Lee
 

Spoken For

I didn’t know I was blue,
until I heard her sing.

I was never aware so much
had been lost
even before I was born.
There was so much to lose
even before I knew
what it meant to choose.

Born blue,
living blue unconfessed, blue
in concealment, I’ve lived all my life
at the plinth
of greater things than me.

Morning is greater
with its firstborn light and birdsong.
Noon is taller, though a moment’s realm.
Evening is ancient and immense, and
night’s storied house more huge.

But I had no idea.
And would have died without a clue,
except she began to sing. And I understood

my soul is a bride enthralled by an unmet groom,
or else the groom wholly spoken for, blue
in ardor, happy in eternal waiting.

I heard her sing and knew
I would never hear the true

name of each thing
until I realized the abysmal
ground of all things. Her singing
touched that ground in me.

Now, dying of my life, everything is made new.
Now, my life is not my life. I have no life
apart from all of life.

And my death is not my death,
but a pillow beneath my head, a rock
propping the window open
to admit the jasmine.

I heard her sing,
and I’m no longer afraid.
Now that I know what she knows, I hope
never to forget
how giant the gone
and immaculate the going.
How much I’ve already lost.
How much I go on losing.
How much I’ve lived
all one blue. O, how much
I go on living.

"Spoken For" from The Undressing by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

"Spoken For" from The Undressing by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2018 Li-Young Lee. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 20, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Li-Young Lee

Li-Young Lee

Li-Young Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents.

by this poet

poem
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
poem

I loved you before I was born.
It doesn't make sense, I know.

I saw your eyes before I had eyes to see.
And I've lived longing 
for your ever look ever since.
That longing entered time as this body. 
And the longing grew as this body waxed.
And the longing grows as the body wanes

poem
He gossips like my grandmother, this man
with my face, and I could stand
amused all afternoon
in the Hon Kee Grocery,
amid hanging meats he
chops: roast pork cut
from a hog hung
by nose and shoulders,
her entire skin burnt
crisp, flesh I know
to be sweet,
her shining
face grinning
up at ducks
dangling single