As I prepare for a writing workshop here at BIG Arts in Sanibel, I’ve been looking for poems to use as inspiration and a source for writing ideas. “The Gift” by Li-Young Lee seems like a good choice, especially for focusing on writing about family.
Here’s the poem and a video of Li-Young Lee reading and discussing the poem. If you’re looking for writing ideas today, try a line or two from the poem and go for ten minutes.
The class (“Jumpstart Your Writing”) will meet for the next five weeks. I’ll be posting some of our readings and writings. If you write something (poem, short nonfiction, fiction) inspired by the readings, send your work my way (email@example.com). I’d love to hear what you’re doing and will post some of the writing on this site.
Click the link below to hear Li-Young Lee reading “The Gift.”
“The Gift” by LI-YOUNG LEE
To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
Li-Young Lee, “The Gift” from Rose. Copyright ©1986 by Li-Young Lee. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions Ltd., www.boaeditions.org.
Source: Rose (BOA Editions Ltd., 1986)