Asian Geographic

The Gift

- By Li-young Lee

To pull the metal splinter from my palm my father recited a story in a low voice. I watched his lovely face and not the blade. Before the story ended, he’d removed the iron sliver I thought I’d die from. I can’t remember the tale, but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands, two measures of tenderness he laid against my face, the flames of discipline he raised above my head. Had you entered that afternoon you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm, a silver tear, a tiny flame.

Had you followed that boy you would have arrived here, where I bend over my wife’s right hand. Look how I shave her thumbnail down so carefully she feels no pain. Watch as I lift the splinter out.

I was seven when my father took my hand like this, and I did not hold that shard between my fingers and think,

Metal that will bury me,

christen it Little Assassin,

Ore Going Deep for My Heart.

And I did not lift up my wound and cry,

Death visited here!

I did what a child does when he’s given something to keep. I kissed my father.

LI-YOUNG LEE (b. 1957) is an American poet, born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents, who is best known for his influence on Asian American poetry. Often writing from personal experience­s and memories, Lee’s poems are filled with themes of simplicity, strength and silence, and are all strongly influenced by his family history, childhood and individual­ity. He has received numerous awards for his work.

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