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This reissuing of acclaimed poet Li-Young Lee's American Book Award-winning memoir tells the harrowing story of the author's early years. In the 1950s, the Lee family was forced to flee China's political turmoil for Indonesia where, in 1957, Li-Young Lee was born. Rather than safe haven, the family, along with many other Chinese members of the population, found themselves persecuted under President Sukarno. Falsely accused and charged for crimes against the state, Li-Young Lee's father spent a year and a half in jail as a political prisoner, half of that time in a leper colony. One stormy night while the entire family was being transported to prison colony, they escaped and began a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and finally back to Hong Kong where the poet's father rose to prominence as an evangelical preacher. In 1962, they sought asylum in the United States and shortly thereafter emigrated to a small town in western Pennsylvania where Li-Young Lee's father became a minister to an all-white Presbyterian congregation. In finely spun threads of poetic prose, Li-Young Lee carries us through the experiences that informed his four award-winning poetry collections and helped shape the vision of one of America's most celebrated poets.
Excerpt from The Winged Seed: A Remembrance
2:00 a.m., I wake to rain, apartments dark where other travelers sleep.
In my dream my father came back, dressed in the clothes we’d buried him in, carrying a jar of blood in one hand, his suit pockets lined with black seeds.
His gray wool suit seemed hardly worn, except for the shoulders and elbows, which were buffed smooth, I guessed, from rubbing against his narrow coffin. And then I saw his shoes. They were completely wrecked; their leather cracked, nicked, creased, cross-creased; their puckered seams, where the stitching came unraveling, betrayed his naked feet. Sockless, his ankles were frightening, and only the thinnest soles kept him from walking in bare feet.
I began to cry, realizing He walked the whole way. I thought of him climbing alone the hundreds of identical stairs up from his grave in Pennsylvania, and then, obeying some instinct, walking west to Chicago, toward his wife, children, and grandchildren. When did he begin his journey, I wondered. In the dream, I felt ashamed, disturbed by the thought that while he looked for me, for us, his family, we were quite unaware of his arrival, which might have taken him years for all I knew, since no one ever told him where to find us. It hurt to think of him walking for years along the blind shoulders of highways, through fields, along rivers, down sidewalks of North American cities and villages; walking day and night; talking to no one; walking; a dead Chinese man separated from the family he’d brought to this country in 1964; a stranger to most when he was alive; an Asian come to a country at war with Asia; now a stranger in death. I kept looking at his shoes.
The family began to gather for a photo to commemorate his return, during which commotion he seemed distracted; he had an appointment to keep. While everyone stayed busy seating and reseating before the camera, crowding to fit into view, I saw he sat not in his accustomed place, at the center, but, instead, at the end of the front row where he seemed not only comfortable but uninterested. I thought to myself, I hope his shoes don’t show up in the photo. That would shame him, such shoes, and the raw ankle bone. And then I was certain he’d soon ask me a question and I wouldn’t know the answer.
Immediately after the photo was taken, he stood up and walked over to me, who, come to think of it, had been sitting in the dead man’s accustomed place. He told me to say good-bye. We had to go. I would be going with him. His words were a blow. I didn’t move. Noticing, he asked if I wanted to come with him after all. I answered, of course. I lied.
About the Author
Li-Young Lee is the author of four critically acclaimed books of poetry, his most recent being Behind My Eyes (W. W. Norton, 2008). His earlier collections are Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001); Rose (BOA, 1986), winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University; The City in Which I Love You (BOA, 1991), the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and a memoir entitled The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (Simon and Schuster, 1995), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation and will be reissued by BOA Editions in 2013. Lee's honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lannan Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He lives with his family in Chicago, IL.
|Publish Date||April 16, 2013|