Poetry: Eating Alone by Li-Young Lee

In the Poetry Salon today we read this poem: 

Eating Alone by Li-Young Lee

I’ve pulled the last of the year’s young onions. 
The garden is bare now.  The ground is cold, 
brown and old.  What is left of the day flames 
in the maples at the corner of my 
eye.  I turn, a cardinal vanishes. 
By the cellar door, I wash the onions, 
then drink from the icy metal spigot. 

Once, years back, I walked beside my father 
among the windfall pears.  I can’t recall 
our words.  We may have strolled in silence.  But
I still see him bend that way—left hand braced 
on knee, creaky—to lift and hold to my 
eye a rotten pear.  In it, a hornet 
spun crazily, glazed in slow, glistening juice. 

It was my father I saw this morning 
waving to me from the trees.  I almost 
called to him, until I came close enough 
to see the shovel, leaning where I had 
left it, in the flickering, deep green shade. 

White rice steaming, almost done.  Sweet green peas 
fried in onions.  Shrimp braised in sesame 
oil and garlic.  And my own loneliness. 
What more could I, a young man, want. 


Li-Young Lee (1957 – )

Li-Young Lee

Li-Young Lee was born in Djakarta, Indonesia in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. Both of Lee’s parents came from powerful Chinese families: Lee’s great grandfather was the first president of the Republic of China, and Lee’s father had been the personal physician to Mao Tse-tsung. In Indonesia, Dr. Lee helped found Gamaliel University. 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. Lee and his parents moved from Seattle to Pennsylvania, where Dr. Lee attended seminary and eventually became a Presbyterian minister in the small community of Vandergrift. Though his father read to him frequently as a child, Lee did not begin to seriously write poems until a student at the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied with Gerald Stern…

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3 Responses to Poetry: Eating Alone by Li-Young Lee

  1. It is difficult
    to get the news from poems
    yet men die miserably every day
    for lack
    of what is found there.
    [William Carlos Williams]

  2. Dinah says:

    So glad to see Li Young-Lee’s words here! I had the great honor of studying with him more than a decade ago and still consider him to be one of America’s finest living poets.

  3. Jermaine says:

    This poem is really hard to understand I’m doing something on it in my college English class.

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