Karen An-hwei Lee

Two Poems


My body isn’t shaped like a violin, said the girl. Curve in my hip isn’t deep enough, profundo. One blue world, my curve vanishes. You aren’t a violin, said her mother. Curve of my body holds no water. No invisible meridians, the hours, divide it. My body isn’t a cup for a pear blossom, said the girl. My hips hold neither fruit nor rain. Succo dolce. You are not a pear blossom, said her mother. You are not a cup to drink. My body isn’t a pomegranate or a bell, said the girl. I am not studded with crimson seeds or a clapper. Your body is neither flora, fauna, nor brass. You are not a mountain range. Our voices, ringing as one, are not the boat-laden rivers. We are neither rain nor snow. Speak. I am my mother’s daughter, four summers old. I am a strong young girl, fourteen summers. Who is my father? Where is this man to invoke a girl’s image of noon? Now a woman of forty years opens this letter without the pressure of metaphors invoking paternal shadows, absent figures of speech, veritas.

Eight Prayers For Cobalt-60

60Co is a source of radiotherapy treatment for cancer. First Woman Survivor I held the sun in my hands until it bled blue light, solarium of sea. Second Woman Survivor I confess to losing my sky as joy hid in a cleft of night, one berg calving blue on blue Third Woman Survivor naked stone, watt on watt of pure schist blue ice. Fourth Woman Survivor Blue women wait for their bodies to heal. One says prayer is a door Fifth Woman Survivor or a shadow box, three xian singing octaves. Sixth Woman Survivor A tuned sanxian of skin rhymes winter songs siphoning blue isotopes. Women dive Seventh Woman Survivor awaiting new bodies underwater ink-sleeve waves, blue ice floes opening Eighth Woman Survivor bream of light yellowfin black narrow-bodied healing marine deep genera.

Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Ardor (Tupelo Press, 2008), In Medias Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), and a chapbook, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe Press, 2002). Her books have been honored by the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America (chosen by Cole Swensen) and the Kathryn A. Morton Prize for Poetry (selected by Heather McHugh). The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she chairs the English department at a faith-based college in southern California, where she is also a novice harpist.