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By Li-Young Lee

I buried my father

in the sky.

Since then, the birds

clean and comb him every morning   

and pull the blanket up to his chin   

every night.


I buried my father underground.   

Since then, my ladders

only climb down,

and all the earth has become a house   

whose rooms are the hours, whose doors   

stand open at evening, receiving   

guest after guest.

Sometimes I see past them

to the tables spread for a wedding feast.


I buried my father in my heart.

Now he grows in me, my strange son,   

my little root who won’t drink milk,   

little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,   

little clock spring newly wet

in the fire, little grape, parent to the future   

wine, a son the fruit of his own son,   

little father I ransom with my life.


Li-Young Lee, “Little Father” from Book of My Nights. Copyright © 2001 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.

Source: Book of My Nights (BOA Editions Ltd., 2003)

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Poet Bio

Li-Young Lee
The son of a personal physician of Mao Zedong, Li-Young Lee was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents. After fleeing the country, the family settled in the United States in 1964. Li-Young Lee’s mother came from a noble family, with her grandfather serving as the first president of the Republic of China. Upon arriving in the U.S., Lee’s father became a Presbyterian minister in Pennsylvania. Lee’s poetry is filled with vivid imagery and creates an atmosphere of silence, much like the poems of China’s classical poets. His work often fades from reality into dream worlds, and is punctuated with an attention to the senses.

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