The Gift, Li-Young Lee
By Norah Christianson
I chose Li-Young Lee’s beautiful poem as our Father’s Day poem because this simple poem is a story about the trust and love between a child and his father, and how, through experiencing such trust and love, the child, when grown, is disposed to practice love and trust with everyone.
To pull the 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 is an American poet born in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. His parents fled Indonesia in 1964 for America, finally settling in Pennsylvania. Lee writes simply, lyrically, passionately. His writing is influenced by classical Chinese poets. Li-Young Lee lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife, Donna, and their two sons.