Why is poetry important?


Ok, so the title is totally misleading. I dont know why poetry is important. But you could be sitting in your bed, in your nerdy glasses, thoughts are whirling with laughter because a cute boy half the world away is sending you messages about nothing and everything. You have ran in the rain and had a great thai curry for dinner.  You drank too many long island iced teas with dinner, too early, and youre too late to drink like this, life warns you.

You come home with smiles in your eye and a vague desire to embrace the world. You remember a poem you loved. You cant stop thinking of this poem. You realize you have shared this poem with everyone you admire. Everyone you desire. There is no more social media to welcome it. You think, perhaps the poet wrote other poems just as necessary. Perhaps not. You risk that disappointment.

He always speaks of his son. His son calls him baba, like I do with mine. He speaks of his father, immigrant and dead.  He speaks of his mother, who obviously gave him a universe in her hands. I find myself crying, for all the little boys in the world who love their fathers, and for all the fathers in the world who have to go away, including mine.

Both poems are by the lovely Li-Young Lee. (Check out his Immigrant Blues, best poem.)

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.

A Story

Sad is the man who is asked for a story
and can’t come up with one.

His five-year-old son waits in his lap.
Not the same story, Baba. A new one.
The man rubs his chin, scratches his ear.

In a room full of books in a world
of stories, he can recall
not one, and soon, he thinks, the boy
will give up on his father.

Already the man lives far ahead, he sees
the day this boy will go. Don’t go!
Hear the alligator story! The angel story once more!
You love the spider story. You laugh at the spider.
Let me tell it!

But the boy is packing his shirts,
he is looking for his keys. Are you a god,
the man screams, that I sit mute before you?
Am I a god that I should never disappoint?

But the boy is here. Please, Baba, a story?
It is an emotional rather than logical equation,
an earthly rather than heavenly one,
which posits that a boy’s supplications
and a father’s love add up to silence.


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