by Steve Krout
August 7, 2020
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.
In May of 2016, a day before my 30th birthday, my brother called to inform me that our father had passed away. Grieving the loss of someone you had been estranged from since you were 16 is messy. You are mourning a relationship that never existed and any hope that one would in the future. Like many others, I lived with a father wound that deepened and widened and became more infected as the years passed by.
I once heard Wm. Paul Young, author of The Shack, say, “It took me fifty years to wipe the face of my father completely off the face of God.” There are days, at the age of 34, that I still find myself wiping the face of my father off the face of God. The clearer the face of God becomes, the clearer I see the loving gaze of a Father who desires my highest good. He is a Father that does not ridicule, does not wound, does not abandon his children.
There’s a beauty and grace to Li-Young Lee’s writing that touches something deep inside of me. When I read “The Gift”, my inner child cries out in longing for something he never experienced. As an adult, I want to kiss the Father who tenderly attends to my wounds.
“The Gift” appears in Rose (1986).
Li-Young Lee was born Djakarta, Indonesia in 1957. Lee’s family fled Indonesia to escape to escape anti-Chinese sentiment in 1959 and settled in the United States in 1964 after traveling through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan. Lee attended several universities, including the University of Arizona. His notable works include Rose (1986), The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (1995), and The Undressing (2018).