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The Cleaving Analysis

Author: Poetry of Li-Young Lee Type: Poetry Views: 337

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He gossips like my grandmother, this man

with my face, and I could stand

amused all afternoon

in the Hon Kee Grocery,

amid hanging meats he

chops: roast pork cut

from a hog hung

by nose and shoulders,

her entire skin burnt

crisp, flesh I know

to be sweet,

her shining

face grinning

up at ducks

dangling single file,

each pierced by black

hooks through breast, bill,

and steaming from a hole

stitched shut at the ass,

I step to the counter, recite,

and he, without even slightly

varying the rhythm of his current confession or harangue,

scribbles my order on a greasy receipt,

and chops it up quick.Such a sorrowful Chinese face,

nomad, Gobi, Northern

in its boniness

clear from the high

warlike forehead

to the sheer edge of the jaw.

He could be my brother, but finer,

and, except for his left forearm, which is engorged,

sinewy from his daily grip and

wield of a two-pound tool,

he's delicate, narrow-

waisted, his frame

so slight a lover, some

rough other

might break it down

its smooth, oily length.

In his light-handed calligraphy

on receipts and in his

moodiness, he is

a Southerner from a river-province;

suited for scholarship, his face poised

above an open book, he'd mumble

his favorite passages.

He could be my grandfather;

come to America to get a Western education

in 1917, but too homesick to study,

he sits in the park all day, reading poems

and writing letters to his mother.He lops the head off, chops

the neck of the duck

into six, slits

the body

open, groin

to breast, and drains

the scalding juices,

then quarters the carcass

with two fast hacks of the cleaver,

old blade that has worn

into the surface of the round

foot-thick chop-block

a scoop that cradles precisely the curved steel.The head, flung from the body, opens

down the middle where the butcher

cleanly halved it between

the eyes, and I

see, foetal-crouched

inside the skull, the homunculus,

gray brain grainy

to eat.

Did this animal, after all, at the moment

its neck broke,

image the way his executionershrinks from his own death?

Is this how

I, too, recoil from my day?

See how this shape

hordes itself, see how

little it is.

See its grease on the blade.

Is this how I'll be found

when judgement is passed, when names

are called, when crimes are tallied?

This is also how I looked before I tore my mother open.

Is this how I presided over my century, is this how

I regarded the murders?

This is also how I prayed.

Was it me in the Other

I prayed to when I prayed?

This too was how I slept, clutching my wife.

Was it me in the other I loved

when I loved another?

The butcher sees me eye this delicacy.

With a finger, he picks it

out of the skull-cradle

and offers it to me.

I take it gingerly between my fingers

and suck it down.

I eat my man.The noise the body makes

when the body meets

the soul over the soul's ocean and penumbra

is the old sound of up-and-down, in-and-out,

a lump of muscle chug-chugging blood

into the ear; a lover's

heart-shaped tongue;

flesh rocking flesh until flesh comes;

the butcher working

at his block and blade to marry their shapes

by violence and time;

an engine crossing,

re-crossing salt water, hauling

immigrants and the junk

of the poor. These

are the faces I love, the bodies

and scents of bodiesfor which I long

in various ways, at various times,

thirteen gathered around the redwood,

happy, talkative, voracious

at day's end,

eager to eat

four kinds of meat

prepared four different ways,

numerous plates and bowls of rice and vegetables,

each made by distinct affections

and brought to table by many hands.Brothers and sisters by blood and design,

who sit in separate bodies of varied shapes,

we constitute a many-membered

body of love.

In a world of shapes

of my desires, each one here

is a shape of one of my desires, and each

is known to me and dear by virtue

of each one's unique corruption

of those texts, the face, the body:

that jut jaw

to gnash tendon;

that wide nose to meet the blows

a face like that invites;

those long eyes closing on the seen;

those thick lips

to suck the meat of animals

or recite 300 poems of the T'ang;

these teeth to bite my monosyllables;

these cheekbones to make

those syllables sing the soul.

Puffed or sunken

according to the life,

dark or light according

to the birth, straight

or humped, whole, manqué, quasi, each pleases, verging

on utter grotesquery.

All are beautiful by variety.

The soul too

is a debasement

of a text, but, thus, it

acquires salience, although ahuman salience, but

inimitable, and, hence, memorable.

God is the text.

The soul is a corruption

and a mnemonic.A bright moment,

I hold up an old head

from the sea and admire the haughty

down-curved mouth

that seems to disdain

all the eyes are blind to,

including me, the eater.

Whole unto itself, complete

without me, yet its

shape complements the shape of my mind.

I take it as text and evidence

of the world's love for me,

and I feel urged to utterance,

urged to read the body of the world, urged

to say it

in human terms,

my reading a kind of eating, my eating

a kind of reading,

my saying a diminishment, my noise

a love-in-answer.

What is it in me woulddevour the world to utter it?

What is it in me will not let

the world be, would eat

not just this fish,

but the one who killed it,

the butcher who cleaned it.

I would eat the way he

squats, the way he

reaches into the plastic tubs

and pulls out a fish, clubs it, takes it

to the sink, guts it, drops it on the weighing pan.

I would eat that thrash

and plunge of the watery body

in the water, that liquid violence

between the man's hands,

I would eatthe gutless twitching on the scales,

three pounds of dumb

nerve and pulse, I would eat it all

to utter it.

The deaths at the sinks, those bodies prepared

for eating, I would eat,

and the standing deaths

at the counters, in the aisles,

the walking deaths in the streets,

the death-far-from-home, the death-

in-a-strange-land, these Chinatown

deaths, these American deaths.

I would devour this race to sing it,

this race that according to Emerson


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