Thursday, October 19, 2017

"What He Told Me" by Mary Soon Lee

What He Told Me
Mary Soon Lee

Life is hard,
said my father,
as he apologized
for causing my existence,
for bringing me into a world of sorrow,
and I, who had met only the small sadnesses,
listened, undaunted, each time -- 
how many times? A dozen? More? --
that he said this.

Tell me if you're in trouble,
said my father,
whatever mistake you've made,
I've made worse ones.
But when I was in trouble,
he had left,
because life is hard.

Walk across the ladder,
he told me,
when I was little
and scared to cross
a playground ladder,
scared of falling,
of being hurt.
I walked across the ladder.
I didn't fall.
There are ladders everywhere,
of course, 
and though I've spent
most of my life
on the ground,
it is because of him
that I know myself
capable of climbing.

I burned the candle from both ends,
I made mistakes,
but have no regrets,
he said,
and I (me, myself) have not,
have rarely even lit
the candle.

Use the best glasses,
he said,
when I dropped one.
Don't keep them in a cupboard,
use them everyday.
Those glasses are in my cupboard now,
high up, unused,
but I am thinking
of lighting a candle,
of climbing onto a ladder,
even if it's a small one.

Poet's Notes:  My father grew up in Malaysia, part of the ethnically Chinese minority there, and then went to Dublin to study medicine, where he met my mother. He was a charismatic man, who had a colorful life. ​He was always, always a good father, but not always a good man. He was bolder, braver, and wilder than I am. His death was the first great sadness of my life. 

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