I am so excited to join Poetry Friday today for two wonderful reasons. First, our featured poem fits perfectly with our bimonthly theme, Festival of Asian Literature and The Immigrant Experience, written by a poet who is an immigrant himself. Second, the roundup post for Poetry Friday today is hosted by the fabulous Linda from TeacherDance. Now on to the show…

Most of my posts are born out of random searches. Some I’ve heard of, most I haven’t. This is especially true for my poetry contributions to Poetry Friday. I discovered Li-Young Lee‘s Immigrant Blues through the Poetry Foundation. According to the poet’s bio, Li-Young Lee was born in Djakarta, Indonesia in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. Anti-Chinese sentiment began to foment in Indonesia, however, and Lee’s father was arrested and held as a political prisoner for a year. After his release, the Lee family fled through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, arriving in the United States in 1964.

Li-Young Lee. Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Immigrant Blues
Li-Young Lee

People have been trying to kill me since I was born,
a man tells his son, trying to explain
the wisdom of learning a second tongue.
It’s an old story from the previous century
about my father and me.

The same old story from yesterday morning
about me and my son.

It’s called “Survival Strategies
and the Melancholy of Racial Assimilation.”
It’s called “Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons,”
called “The Child Who’d Rather Play than Study.”
Practice until you feel
the language inside you, says the man.
But what does he know about inside and outside,
my father who was spared nothing
in spite of the languages he used?
And me, confused about the flesh and the soul,
who asked once into a telephone,
Am I inside you?
You’re always inside me, a woman answered,
at peace with the body’s finitude,
at peace with the soul’s disregard
of space and time.
Am I inside you? I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart.
If you don’t believe you’re inside me, you’re not,
she answered, at peace with the body’s greed,
at peace with the heart’s bewilderment.
It’s an ancient story from yesterday evening
called “Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora,”
called “Loss of the Homeplace
and the Defilement of the Beloved,”
called “I want to Sing but I Don’t Know Any Songs.”

We hope you enjoyed our Poetry Friday contribution today. =)

Fats is the Assistant Manager for Circulation Services at the Wayne County Public Library in Wooster, Ohio. She considers herself a reader of all sorts, although she needs to work on her non-fiction reading. Fats likes a good mystery but is not too fond of thrillers. She takes book hoarding seriously and enjoys collecting bookmarks and tote bags. When she is not reading, Fats likes to shop pet apparel for her cat Penny (who absolutely loathes it).

8 comments on “Poetry Friday: Immigrant Blues

  1. Beautiful! Thanks so much for introducing me to Li-Young – what a find!


  2. It has such deep feeling Fats. I love that “Practice until you feel the language inside you”, but then so bereft in the response. Thanks for showing us this poet.


  3. As a first-generation immigrant, I know the “The Child Who’d Rather Play than Study” blues very well. Thank you for sharing this.


  4. A poem so full of longing…thanks for sharing this, Fats.


  5. Such strong emotion throughout – thank you, Fats, for sharing.


  6. I love “an ancient story from yesterday evening.” Perfect, how our families are what’s happening this moment and what happened in the last three generations, at the same time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: BHE (32): Goodwill During the Holiday Season «

  8. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Falling |

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