I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never having wavered In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these loves; Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these loves; Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by a conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers of their alert enemies; declare That I shall love you always. No matter what party is in power; No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied interests wins the war; Shall love you always.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Modern Declaration," from Collected Poems. Copyright 1931, 1934, 1939, © 1958 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. www.millay.org.
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 newspaper. Peel the skin tenderly, not to tear the meat. Chew 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 and 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 both on my bedroom windowsill, where each morning a cardinal sang, The sun, the sun. Finally understanding he was going blind, my father sat 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 a box. Inside the box 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, “Persimmons” from Rose. Copyright © 1986 by Li-Young Lee. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.
I am much too alone in this world, yet not alone
to truly consecrate the hour.
I am much too small in this world, yet not small
to be to you just object and thing,
dark and smart.
I want my free will and want it accompanying
the path which leads to action;
and want during times that beg questions,
where something is up,
to be among those in the know,
or else be alone.
I want to mirror your image to its fullest perfection,
never be blind or too old
to uphold your weighty wavering reflection.
I want to unfold.
Nowhere I wish to stay crooked, bent;
for there I would be dishonest, untrue.
I want my conscience to be
true before you;
want to describe myself like a picture I observed
for a long time, one close up,
like a new word I learned and embraced,
like the everday jug,
like my mother's face,
like a ship that carried me along
through the deadliest storm.
English translation, translator's introduction, and translator's notes copyright © 2001 by Annemarie S. Kidder. Published 2001. All rights reserved.