Selected Poems | Karen An-hwei Lee

Suzume, an Origami Bird at the Apocalypse

What is the universe?

– a paper star flew,

a sparrow

on its wing.

Folded star

aviary –

java        sea        kenya
song       desert    cape
russet      true      suzume

house      fox      clay
tree        olive     field

sage       rock     vesper

A star

a paper sparrow –

the end.

Dear Millennium, on Proof of Beauty in Exile

Exiled, does beauty pose hypotheses without solutions,

i.e. only a desire to prove thingness-as-beauty

or vice versa? If I say a bowl of radish kimchi is gorgeous, for instance,
this is not a proof. Or if I say, bless this head of baechu cabbage,

seasoned with scarlet flakes of gochugaro, it is a performative

utterance. (Bury it in the winter ground.) Dear millennium, a verb

alone proves nothing underground.

If I say, exhume the frozen, uncracked kimchi urn
big enough to ferment the bridled chaos of girlhood –

blood-honey of subterranean

ripening as an object of transformation, then what ensues,

dear millennium?

Let’s open this jar of red spices, of anaerobic organisms,

of your flaming antidote to famine

to simply call it grace.

Invocation for the Water in the Well, Jing Shui

Come to my well and drink

dark cool liquid –


at your shoulder
of jing shui         . It is not gold
or an aqueous orb

to see,

sailing on a lake
of regress. No koi carp loiter in
rain the scent of         . Come
for our burdens

are light.

My inner latitude

never touches sky.

Near the rose-canes by holy water,
lepers rejoice,

eyes healed and skin

without lesions –
without transparency,
never say

we wonder or wish.

Instead, we say it is. The roseate

lepers sing,         – We exist.

Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012), Ardor (Tupelo 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande 2004). She authored a novel, Sonata in K (Ellipsis 2017). Currently, she lives in San Diego, where she serves in the university administration at Point Loma Nazarene University.