This Room and Everything in It

by Li-Young Lee


Lie still now
while I prepare for my future,
certain hard days ahead,
when I’ll need what I know so clearly this moment.

I am making use
of the one thing I learned
of all the things my father tried to teach me:
the art of memory.

I am letting this room
and everything in it
stand for my ideas about love
and its difficulties.

I’ll let your love-cries,
those spacious notes
of a moment ago,
stand for distance.

Your scent,
that scent
of spice and a wound,
I’ll let stand for mystery.

Your sunken belly
is the daily cup
of milk I drank
as a boy before morning prayer.

The sun on the face
of the wall
is God, the face
I can’t see, my soul,

and so on, each thing
standing for a separate idea,
and those ideas forming the constellation
of my greater idea.
And one day, when I need
to tell myself something intelligent about love,

I’ll close my eyes
and recall this room and everything in it:
My body is estrangement.
This desire, perfection.
Your closed eyes my extinction.
Now I’ve forgotten my
idea. The book
on the windowsill, riffled by wind...
the even-numbered pages are
the past, the odd-
numbered pages, the future.
The sun is
God, your body is milk...

useless, useless...
your cries are song, my body’s not me...
no good...my idea
has evaporated...your hair is time, your thighs are song...
it had something to do
with death...it had something to do with love

From The City in Which I Love You by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 1990 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted by permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd.