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Persimmons -- Li-Young Lee

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1245) Persimmons
 In sixth grade Mrs. Walker
 slapped the back of my head
 and made me stand in the corner
 for not knowing the difference
 between persimmon and precision.
 How to choose

 persimmons. This is precision.
 Ripe ones are soft and brown-spotted.
 Sniff the bottoms. The sweet one
 will be fragrant. How to eat:
 put the knife away, lay down the newspaper.
 Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat.
 Chew on the skin, suck it,
 and swallow. Now, eat
 the meat of the fruit,
 so sweet
 all of it, to the heart.

 Donna undresses, her stomach is white.
 In the yard, dewy and shivering
 with crickets, we lie naked,
 face-up, face-down,
 I teach her Chinese. Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I've forgotten.
 Naked: I've forgotten.
 Ni, wo: you me.
 I part her legs,
 remember to tell her
 she is beautiful as the moon.

 Other words
 that got me into trouble were
 fight and fright, wren and yarn.
 Fight was what I did when I was frightened,
 fright was what I felt when I was fighting.
 Wrens are small, plain birds,
 yarn is what one knits with.
 Wrens are soft as yarn.
 My mother made birds out of yarn.
 I loved to watch her tie the stuff;
 a bird, a rabbit, a wee man.

 Mrs. Walker brought a persimmon to class
 and cut it up
 so everyone could taste
 a Chinese apple. Knowing
 it wasn't ripe or sweet, I didn't eat
 but watched the other faces.

 My mother said every persimmon has a sun
 inside, something golden, glowing,
 warm as my face.

 Once, in the cellar, I found two wrapped in newspaper
 forgotten and not yet ripe.
 I took them and set them both on my bedroom windowsill,
 where each morning a cardinal
 sang. The sun, the sun.

 Finally understanding
 he was going blind,
 my father would stay up all one night
 waiting for a song, a ghost.
 I gave him the persimmons, swelled, heavy as sadness,
 and sweet as love.

 This year, in the muddy lighting
 of my parents' cellar, I rummage, looking
 for something I lost.
 My father sits on the tired, wooden stairs,
 black cane between his knees,
 hand over hand, gripping the handle.

 He's so happy that I've come home.
 I ask how his eyes are, a stupid question.
 All gone, he answers.

 Under some blankets, I find three scrolls.
 I sit beside him and untie
 three paintings by my father:
 Hibiscus leaf and a white flower.
 Two cats preening.
 Two persimmons, so full they want to drop from the cloth.

 He raises both hands to touch the cloth,
 asks, Which is this?

 This is persimmons, Father.

 Oh, the feel of the wolftail on the silk,
 the strength, the tense
 precision in the wrist.
 I painted them hundreds of times
 eyes closed. These I painted blind.
 Some things never leave a person:
 scent of the hair of one you love,
 the texture of persimmons,
 in your palm, the ripe weight.
-- Li-Young Lee
Today's poem that David Highland submitted written by David Lee, triggered
in my head a memory of this poem from a volume of poem I read an year ago by
another Lee, with language as clear. Instead of feeding pigs, the subject is
eating persimmons. This poem is resonant at many levels most of them

First comes the manner of speaking of English. By virtue of being a
"non-native" speaker, I usually tend to be very imprecise about my
pronunciation. I simply have a sound within my head that I had to make up
for myself sans any other point of reference for a lot of words. As an
example the other day I was using the word Hyperbole. I said hyper-bol and
had dropped the 'e'. I was corrected:

"the difference between persimmon and precision."

Then a few days ago at a gathering, I was quickly asked to say "Thank
you" in Hindi, when I realised by the virtue of non-use I had forgotten
that sound. It didn't come to me right away.

"Crickets: chiu chiu. Dew: I've forgotten.
Naked: I've forgotten."

Then the rest of the poem goes on use persimmons to link the poet with his
parents and of the days past. Similarly eating mangoes out of a bottle
linked me to summers and mangoes in India and the koel's song.

"I took them and set them both on my bedroom windowsill,
where each morning a cardinal
sang. The sun, the sun."

And then there is this great ending:

"Some things never leave a person:
scent of the hair of one you love,
the texture of persimmons,
in your palm, the ripe weight."

Li-Young Lee also a wrote a spectacular memoir called The Winged Seed,
which I highly reccomend, to memorists!



To hear the poet reading this poem:

Bio Etc.
[broken link]

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