flickering, deep green shade...

ten poems for changing eye and hand

Li-Young Lee

Eating Alone

I’ve pulled the last of the year’s young onions.
The garden is bare now. The ground is cold,
brown and old. What is left of the day flames
in the maples at the corner of my
eye. I turn, a cardinal vanishes.
By the cellar door, I wash the onions,
then drink from the icy metal spigot.

Once, years back, I walked beside my father
among the windfall pears. I can’t recall
our words. We may have strolled in silence. But
I still see him bend that way—left hand braced
on knee, creaky—to lift and hold to my
eye a rotten pear. In it, a hornet
spun crazily, glazed in slow, glistening juice.

It was my father I saw this morning
waving to me from the trees. I almost
called to him, until I came close enough
to see the shovel, leaning where I had
left it, in the flickering, deep green shade.

White rice steaming, almost done. Sweet green peas
fried in onions. Shrimp braised in sesame
oil and garlic. And my own loneliness.
What more could I, a young man, want.


“Eating Alone,” a poem in the rich tradition of Rilke, Roethke, James Wright, Kenyon, Heaney... is a moving experience of wonder, memory, expectation, and, finally, realization. A poem – from Lee’s powerful debut collection Rose – that is not about happiness or satisfaction, but is about recognizing the moment. Like the shovel in the piece, this is a work to lean on, to return to, to put your hands around and create or shift the space ahead of you.

The poem’s final word is the core.


anhaga said...

Strong enjambment twice on "my/eye" then coming to rest on "want" --- how wanting is tied up with seeing, even (or most) when it is desire that governs and tricks what is seen....

Li-Young Lee is one of our best. Thanks for posting this.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the comment, James. I like the enjambments as well.

One of the many possiblities in this poem that draw me is Lee's use of transformation - cardinal to hornet to father to shovel ... maples to cellar door to rotting pear to deep green shade ... juice to steam to loneliness to want.

I never tire of this piece.

LKD said...

The shovel mistaken for a father and the wasp spinning in the windfall pear are two of the best lines of poetry I've read in a long, long time.

The shovel as father makes me want to cry.

The last two lines are little bit too close to my own truth. It made me terribly uncomfortable to recognize them within myself, to feel them.

Thanks for posting this, Sam. I hadn't encountered this particular poem before now.

Collin said...

It's a beautiful poem.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

The shovel, at least for me, is the strength of the poem. A perfect image. Thanks for the comment, Laurel.

I agree with you, Collin. I apprecieate the visit.