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.
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now
told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted
cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds
in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s
son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.
Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling
by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned
from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—
motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth
spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey…Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,
darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag
with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts
above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us
the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love
but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog
-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing
& still breathing. Believe me.
Copyright © 2015 by Ocean Vuong. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 2, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets
To section off
is to intensify,
cannot be salvaged.
to lose function,
to persist only
holding in place
the body a dichotomy
of flesh and
blood. Wait here
in the trellised
Soon you’ll know
that the strictures
but at that point
you’ll also know
you could no longer survive.
you wanted the end
with a serpentine
greed. How to negotiate
mist, the fibrous
To cease to exist
and to die
are two different things entirely.
But you knew this,
Some days you knelt on coins
in those yellow hours.
You lit a flame
to your shadow
scorpions with your naked fingers.
So touched by the sadness of hair
in a dirty sink.
The malevolent smell
When instead of swallowing a fistful
of white pills,
you decided to shower,
the palm trees
nodded in agreement,
of crickets singing
behind your swollen eyes.
The masked bird
turned to you
with a shred of paper hanging
from its beak.
hair wet and fragrant,
you cupped a goat's face
his trembling horns.
It fell prostrate,
passed through you
like a swift
and generous storm.
"Six Months After Contemplating Suicide" first appeared in the December 2015 issue of Poetry. Copyright © 2015 Erika L. Sánchez.