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More poems by Li-Young LeeLi-Young Lee | Print this page.Print | View and Write CommentsComments | Books by Li-Young LeeBooks by Li-Young Lee

The Father's House

Li-Young Lee

Here, as in childhood, Brother, no one knows us.   
And someone has died, and someone is not yet   

born, while our father walks through his church at night   
and sets all the clocks for spring.  His sleeplessness   

weighs heavy on my forehead, his death almost   
nothing. in the only letter he wrote to us   

he says, No one can tell how long it takes a seed   
to declare what death and lightning told it   

while it slept.  But stand at a window long enough,   
late enough, and you may some night hear   

a secret you'll tomorrow, parallel to the morning,   
tell on a wide, white bed, to a woman   

like a sown ledge of wheat.  Or you may never   
tell it, who lean across the night and miles of the sea,   

to arrive at a seed, in whose lamplit house   
resides a thorn, or a wee man, carving   

a name on a stone, at afluctuating table of water,   
the name of the one who has died, the name of the one   

not born unknown.  Someone has died.  Someone   
is not yet born.  And during this black interval, 

I sweep all three floors of our father's house,   
and I don't count the broom strokes; I row   

up and down for nothing but love: his for me, and my own   
for the threshold, as well as for the woman's name   

I hear while I sweep, as though she swept   
beside me, a woman who, if she owns a face at all,   

it is its own changing; and if I know her name   
I know to say it so softly she need not   

stop her work to hear me.  But when she lies down   
at night, in the room of our arrival, she'll know   

I called her, though she won't answer, who is on her way   
to sleep, until morning, which even now,   

is overwhelming, the woman combing her hair opposite   
the direction of my departure.   

And only now and then do I lean at a jamb   
to see'if I can see what I thought I heard.   

I heard her ask, My love, why can't you sleep?   
and answer, Someone has died, and someone   

is not yet born.  Meanwhile, I hear the voices   
of women telling a story in the round,   

so I sit down on a rain-eaten stoop, by the saltgrasses,   
and go on folding the laundry I was folding,   

the everyday clothes of our everyday life, the death   
clothes wearing us clean to the bone, to the very   

ilium crest, where my right hand, this hand, half   
crab, part bird, has often come to rest on her,   

whose name I know.  And because I sat down,   
I hear their folding sound, and know   

the tide is rising early, and I can't hope   
to trap their story told in the round.  But the woman   

whose name I know says, Sleep, so I lie down   
on the clothes, the folded and unfolded, the life   

and the death.  Ages go by When I wake, the story   
has changed the firmament into domain, domain   

into a house.  And the sun speaks the day,   
unnaming, showing the story, dissipating the boundaries   

of the telling, to include the one who has died   
and the one not yet born.  Someone has died   

and someone is not yet born.  How still   
this morning grows about the voice of one   

child reading to another, how much a house   
is house at all due to one room where an elder   

child reads to his brother, and that younger   
knows by heart the brother-voice.  How darker   

other rooms stand, how slow morning comes, collected   
in a name, told at one sill and listened for   

at the threshold of dew What book is this we read   
together, Brother, and at which window   

of our father's house?  In which upper room?   
We read it twice: Once in two voices, to each   

other; once in unison, to children,   
animals, and the sun, our star, that vast office   

of love, the one we sit in once, and read   
together twice, the third time bosomed in   

the future.  So birds may lend their church, sown   
in air, realized in the body uttering   

windows, growing rafters, couching seeds. 

Added: 25 Feb 2002 | Last Read: 22 Apr 2019 6:56 AM | Viewed: 6771 times

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URL: http://plagiarist.com/poetry/2812/ | Viewed on 22 April 2019.
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