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American Life in Poetry

Li-Young Lee is an important American poet of Chinese parentage who lives in Chicago. Much of his poetry is marked by unabashed tenderness, and this poem is a good example of that.

I Ask My Mother to Sing

She begins, and my grandmother joins her.

Mother and daughter sing like young girls.

If my father were alive, he would play

his accordion and sway like a boat.

I’ve never been in Peking, or the Summer Palace,

nor stood on the great Stone Boat to watch

the rain begin on Kuen Ming Lake, the picnickers

running away in the grass.

But I love to hear it sung;

how the waterlilies fill with rain until

they overturn, spilling water into water,

then rock back, and fill with more.

Both women have begun to cry.

But neither stops her song.

Poem copyright 1986 by Li-Young Lee and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.


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