Friday, March 27, 2020

Three Words by Li-Young Lee

Three Words

God-My-Father gave me three words:

God-My-Mother’s wounds will never heal.

God-My-Brother is always alone in the library.

Meanwhile, I can’t remember
how many brothers I have.

God-My-Sister, combing the knots out of my hair,
says that’s because
so many brothers died before I learned to count,
and the ones who died after I acquired arithmetic
so exceeded the number of brothers still alive.

God-My-Father gave me three words to live by.
O-My-Love.     O-My-God.     Holy-Holy-Holy.

Why won’t God-My-Mother’s wounds heal?
Wounding myself doesn’t cauterize her wounds.
Another wound to her won’t seal her open blooms.

Her voice is a flowering tree struck by lightning.
It goes on greening and flowering,
but come petal-fall, its blossoms dropping
thunder so loud I must cover my ears to hear her.

Meanwhile, God-My-Brother spends every afternoon
alone with the books God-My-Father writes.
Some days he looks up
from a page, wearing the very face of horror.
Ask him what’s the matter
and he’ll stare into your eyes and whisper, “Murder!”
He’ll howl, “Murder!” He’ll scream, “Murder!”
Until he’s hoarse or exhausted.
Or until God-My-Sister sits him down,
combs and braids his hair,
and sorts his dreams.

I’m counting out loud all of my brothers’ names,
the living and the dead, on my fingers.
But the list is long,
leading back to the beginning
of the building of the first human cities,
and I keep losing my place and starting over.
Once, I remembered them all
except the first pair.

God-My-Sister says I must never say those names, never
pronounce the names of that first pair of brothers
within earshot of God-My-Brother.

God-My-Father gave me only three words.
How will I ever learn to talk like other people?

God-My-Mother sings, and her voice
comes like winter to break open the seeds.

God-My-Brother spends most of his time alone.
God-My-Sister is the only one
he’ll ever let touch his face.

God-My-Sister, you should see her.
I have so many brothers,
but forever there will be
only one of her, God-My-Sister.

God-My-Father says from those three words
he gave me, all other words descend, branching.
That still leaves me unfit
for conversation, like some deranged bird
you can’t tell is crying in grief or exultation,
all day long repeating,
“O, my God.
O, my love.
Holy, holy, holy.”

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