Self-Help for Fellow Refugees

If your name
suggests a country where bells
might have been used for entertainment,
or to announce
the entrances and exits of the seasons
and the birthdays of gods and demons,
it’s probably best to dress in plain clothes
when you arrive in the United States.
And try not to talk too loud.

If you happen to have watched armed men
beat and drag your father
out the front door of your house
and into the back of an idling truck,
before your mother jerked you from the threshold
and buried your face in her skirt folds,
try not to judge your mother
too harshly. Don’t ask her
what she thought she was doing,
turning a child’s eyes away
from history
and toward that place all human aching starts.

And if, one day, you meet someone
in your adopted country and believe
you see in the other’s face an open sky,
some promise of a new beginning,
it probably means
you’re standing too far away.

Or if you think you read
in the other, as in a book
whose first and last pages are missing,
the story of your own birthplace, a country twice erased,
once by fire, once by forgetfulness,
it probably means you’re standing too close.

In any case, try
not to let another carry
the burden of your own nostalgia or hope.

And if you’re one of those
whose left side of the face doesn’t match
the right, it might be a clue
looking the other way was a habit
your predecessors found useful for survival.
Don’t lament
not being beautiful.
Get used to seeing while not seeing.
Get busy remembering
while forgetting. Dying to live
while not wanting to go on.

Very likely, your ancestors decorated their bells
of every shape and size
with elaborate calendars and diagrams
of distant star systems,
but no maps
for scattered descendants.

And I bet you can’t say
what language your father spoke
when he shouted to your mother
from the back of the truck, “Let the boy see!”

Maybe it wasn’t the language you used at home.
Maybe it was a forbidden language.
Or maybe there was too much screaming
and weeping
and the noise of guns in the streets.

It doesn’t matter.
What matters is this:
The kingdom of heaven is good.
But heaven on earth is better.

Thinking is good.
But living is better.

Alone
in your favorite chair
with a book you enjoy
is fine. But spooning
is even better.

~~ Li-Young Lee ~~
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From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the joy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
~~ Li-Young Lee ~~