God Is Burning

A black and white photograph of smoke


God Is Burning

Through an open wound in God’s left side,
springtime enters into the world,
sticky, green, with a taste of iron.
That’s not the wound I hurt from.

There’s a dull pain in God’s right hip,
around which throbbing axis
all worlds, visible and invisible, revolve.
That’s not the pain that keeps me awake at night.

God is poor, naked, and alone.
But not the way the wren is poor.
And even the wood thrush has feathers.
Even mice have coats. Even cows have hides.

And God’s not alone the way I’m alone,
my whole life merely a commentary on those verses:
You are as close to us as breathing, yet
You are farther than the farthermost star.

The sigh God sighed long ago
birthed lighted aeons dying in time.
The sigh I sigh upon remembering Cain was my brother,
and so was Abel, fans every lit cell of me,

breathing, naked, hungry, thirsty, and sore
since birth, into an open tear, a burning tear
through which God surveys creation,
each a wet and living eye
in which God binds the Alpha and the Omega.


Editorial note: From The Undressing, forthcoming from W. W. Norton in February 2018. Published by arrangement with the author. For more, read an interview with Lee from this same issue.

Li-Young Lee’s previous verse collections include Rose (1986), winner of the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award;The City in Which I Love You (1991), the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and Book of My Nights (2001). He is also the author of a memoir, The Winged Seed: A Remembrance (1995), which received an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, and Breaking the Alabaster Jar: Conversations with Li-Young Lee, forthcoming from BOA Editions in fall 2006. Lee’s honors include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lannan Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. As a juror for the 2006 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, he nominated poet Gerald Stern for the award. Born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, of Chinese parents, Lee fled Indonesia with his family in 1959 after his father spent a year as a political prisoner in President Sukarno’s jails. Between 1959 and 1964 the Lee family traveled throughout Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan before settling in the United States. Lee currently lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife, Donna, and their two children.