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I’m  Li-Young Lee.  I am Chinese.  I was born in Indonesia, and I live in the United States.

....When my father asked me in the morning, and I lied to him.   “Have you prayed?”, I said, “Yes”.

I never felt guilty about it until a few months ago (he’s been dead for twenty-some years), I heard his voice asking me, “Have you prayed?", and I felt immense guilt.

This poem,

Have You Prayed

When the wind
turns and asks, in my father’s voice,
Have you prayed?
I know three things:  One: 
I’m not finished answering to the dead.
Two:  A man is four winds and three fires.
And the four winds are his father’s voice,
his mother’s voice...
Or maybe he’s seven winds and ten fires.
And the fires are seeing, hearing, touching,
dreaming, thinking,  is he the breath of God?

When the wind turns traveler
and asks, in my father’s voice, Have you prayed?
I remember three things.  One:  A father’s love
is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what’s left  over
is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.
And patience?  That’s to endure
the terrible leavening and kneading.
And wisdom?  That’s my father’s face in sleep.

When the wind asks, Have you prayed? I know
it’s only me reminding myself
a flower is one station between
earth’s wish and earth’s rapture, and blood
was fire, salt, and breath long before
it quickened any wand or branch, any limb
that woke speaking.  It’s just me
in the gowns of the wind,
or my father through me, asking,
Have you found your refuge yet?
asking, Are you happy?

Funny, a troubled father, a happy son
A wind with a voice.  And me without one.

“Have You Prayed”, copyright 2002 by Li-Young Lee. Printed by permission of author.

Li-Young Lee.  Poet, writer.  Chinese, Indonesian born. Lives:  Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.   Mr. Lee is the author of three poetry collections-- Rose, The City in Which I Love You (Lamont Poetry Prize winner), Book of My Nights-- and The Winged Seed, A Remembrance.  The recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEA, Lee’s awards include the Lannan Literary Award, the Whiting Award, the PEN Josephine Miles Award, and the I.B. Lavan Award.

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Li Young Lee
©2004 Voices Underground
an Earthwork by Patricia Goodrich
http://www.patriciagoodrich.com
Email: patricia@patriciagoodrich.com