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Weekly Poem: ‘Cuckoo Flower on the Witness Stand’

By Li-Young Lee

I sang in a church choir during one war
American TV made famous.

I fled a burning archipelago in the rain,
on my mother’s back, in another war
nobody televised.

In the midst of wars worldwide, many
in places whose names I can’t pronounce,
my father taught me, “When asked
about your knowledge of politics, answer, ‘None.’ ”

I doodled in the church bulletin on Sundays
while my father offered the twenty-minute Pastor’s Prayer.

Every morning, I tucked Adam’s promise and Jesus’ disgrace
together with my pajamas under my pillow,
unable to distinguish which of them
was God’s first though, and which God’s second.

When asked about my religious training, I answer,
“I seek my destiny in my origin.”

Most of my life, I’ve answered politely
to questions put to me, speaking only when spoken to,

a sign of weakness
unbefitting of any free human being.

. .

Therefore, for the sake of free human beings everywhere,
and because no one asked, I now say:

My voice’s taper graduates to smoke,
dividing every word between us,
what was meant and what was heard.

And speech’s bird
threads hunger’s needle
or perishes in a thicket of words.

And so, speaking as one of the flowers,
I’ll seek rest in falling.

I’ll seek asylum in the final word,
an exile from the first word,
and refugee of an illegible past.

Li-Young Lee is the author of four books of poetry: “Behind My Eyes” (2008); “Book of My Nights” (2001); “The City in Which I Love You” (1991); and “Rose” (1986).

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