The Gift

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, Rose


  1. Thanks for posting Li-Young's poem. We don't often talk about our fathers. I'm not sure why. I wrote a poem about my dad called Looking for Work in America. My dad spent 4 years in a slave labor camp in Germany. Then he came to America looking for work after the war. I thought you might be interested in the poem. Here's a piece of it:

    He knew death the way a blind man
    knows his mother’s voice. He had walked
    through villages in Poland and Germany

    where only the old were left to search
    for oats in the fields or beg the soldiers
    for a cup of milk. He knew the dead,

    the way they smelled and their dark full faces,
    the clack of their teeth when they were desperate
    to tell you of their lives. Once he watched

    a woman in the moments before she died
    take a stick and try to write her name
    in the mud where she lay. He’d buried

    children too, and he knew he could do any kind
    of work a man could ask him to do.
    He knew there was only work or death.

    He could dig up beets and drag fallen trees
    without bread or hope. The war taught him how.
    He came to the States with this and his tools,

    hands that had worked bricks and frozen mud
    and knew the language the shit bosses spoke.

  2. John, Thanks so much for your words. I'd very much like to see the entire poem.

  3. Hi, Ron, if you send me your email, I'll send you the poem. It goes on for about 4 pages. Sort of the history of his working life.

    My email is jzguzlowski (at) gmail.com

    By the way, I posted a piece about my father and work at my blog http://lightning-and-ashes.blogspot.com/