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The Father's House Analysis

Author: poem of Li-Young Lee Type: poem Views: 6

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Here, as in childhood, Brother, no one knows us.  

And someone has died, and someone is not yet  

born, while our father walks through his church at night  

and sets all the clocks for spring.  His sleeplessness  

weighs heavy on my forehead, his death almost  

nothing. in the only letter he wrote to us  

he says, No one can tell how long it takes a seed  

to declare what death and lightning told it  

while it slept.  But stand at a window long enough,  

late enough, and you may some night hear  

a secret you'll tomorrow, parallel to the morning,  

tell on a wide, white bed, to a woman  

like a sown ledge of wheat.  Or you may never  

tell it, who lean across the night and miles of the sea,  

to arrive at a seed, in whose lamplit house  

resides a thorn, or a wee man, carving  

a name on a stone, at afluctuating table of water,  

the name of the one who has died, the name of the one  

not born unknown.
  Someone has died.  Someone  

is not yet born.  And during this black interval,

I sweep all three floors of our father's house,  

and I don't count the broom strokes; I row  

up and down for nothing but love: his for me, and my own  

for the threshold, as well as for the woman's name  

I hear while I sweep, as though she swept  

beside me, a woman who, if she owns a face at all,  

it is its own changing; and if I know her name  

I know to say it so softly she need not  

stop her work to hear me.  But when she lies down  

at night, in the room of our arrival, she'll know  

I called her, though she won't answer, who is on her way  

to sleep, until morning, which even now,  

is overwhelming, the woman combing her hair opposite  

the direction of my departure.  

And only now and then do I lean at a jamb  

to see'if I can see what I thought I heard.  

I heard her ask, My love, why can't you sleep?  

and answer, Someone has died, and someone  

is not yet born.
  Meanwhile, I hear the voices  

of women telling a story in the round,  

so I sit down on a rain-eaten stoop, by the saltgrasses,  

and go on folding the laundry I was folding,  

the everyday clothes of our everyday life, the death  

clothes wearing us clean to the bone, to the very  

ilium crest, where my right hand, this hand, half  

crab, part bird, has often come to rest on her,  

whose name I know.  And because I sat down,  

I hear their folding sound, and know  

the tide is rising early, and I can't hope  

to trap their story told in the round.  But the woman  

whose name I know says, Sleep, so I lie down  

on the clothes, the folded and unfolded, the life  

and the death.  Ages go by When I wake, the story  

has changed the firmament into domain, domain  

into a house.  And the sun speaks the day,  

unnaming, showing the story, dissipating the boundaries  

of the telling, to include the one who has died  

and the one not yet born.  Someone has died  

and someone is not yet born.  How still  

this morning grows about the voice of one  

child reading to another, how much a house  

is house at all due to one room where an elder  

child reads to his brother, and that younger  

knows by heart the brother-voice.  How darker  

other rooms stand, how slow morning comes, collected  

in a name, told at one sill and listened for  

at the threshold of dew What book is this we read  

together, Brother, and at which window  

of our father's house?  In which upper room?  

We read it twice: Once in two voices, to each  

other; once in unison, to children,  

animals, and the sun, our star, that vast office  

of love, the one we sit in once, and read  

together twice, the third time bosomed in  

the future.  So birds may lend their church, sown  

in air, realized in the body uttering  

windows, growing rafters, couching seeds.


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