I never claimed night fathered me. that was my dead brother talking in his sleep. I keep him under my pillow, a dear wish that colors my laughing and crying. I never said the wind, remembering nothing, leaves so many rooms unaccounted for, continual farewell must ransom the unmistakable fragrance our human days afford. It was my brother, little candle in the pulpit, reading out loud to all of earth from the book of night. He died too young to learn his name. Now he answers to Vacant Boat, Burning Wing, My Black Petal. Ask him who his mother is. He'll declare the birds have eaten the path home, but each of us joins night's ongoing story wherever night overtakes him, the heart astonished to find belonging and thanks answering thanks. Ask if he's hungry or thirsty, he'll say he's the bread come to pass and draw you a map to the twelve secret hips of honey. Does someone want to know the way to spring? He'll remind you the flower was never meant to survive the fruit's triumph. He says an apple's most secret cargo is the enduring odor of a human childhood, our mother's linen pressed and stored, our father's voice walking through the rooms. He says he's forgiven our sister for playing dead and making him cry those afternoons we were left alone in the house. And when clocks frighten me with their long hair, and when I spy the wind's numerous hands in the orchard unfastening first the petals from the buds, then the perfume from the flesh, my dead brother ministers to me. His voice weighs nothing but the far years between stars in their massive dying, and I grow quiet hearing how many of both of our tomorrows lie waiting inside it to be born.
From Book of My Nights (BOA, 2001) by Li-Young Lee. Copyright © 2001. Appears with permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.
Li-Young Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents.
Date Published: 2001-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/black-petal