Why Write

by Ed Bok Lee

The castle where I happened upon the roundness of suns
was an island prison on the ocean

No one visited my distractions here
or my more joyful sins

A sanctuary of sound and sense

The waves brought shells and seaweed I learned
to fill with palm honey

Hot wind in leaves fanned me to sleep

I was happy

Eventually all the memories inside me congealed
Like the songs of jellyfish soaring through tides at dusk

Sometimes I confused myself for pure desire

Sometimes I only closed my eyes, and returned
to that border town where war and beauty mixed
cocktails all night in a tavern populated by tarantulas
and the sad parents of poets and politicians

But always reality in some garden re-planted my name

Always a cool rain eventually reanimated my face

After decades, near blind, I built a giant driftwood dollhouse
Gave the figures octopus hearts and star fruit hair

Whales serenaded my loneliness

Endless bird chattered about: the weather; new romances;
aren’t all true gods mistakes?. . . and other debates
left me honing my beliefs and assumptions like pointless weapons

An endless chain of old friends, the seasons
frequently visited in gentle reminiscence
of one another’s passing

And when death finally drowned the song in my lungs with stars,
on rare evenings I too could see down
through cuneiform carpets of corrugated clouds

Far, to that quiet castle on the sea
where each day’s effort could become even more
majestic a ruin


Ed Bok Lee’s latest collection, Whorled (Coffee House Press), was a winner of the 2012 American Book Award. Recently, his poems and prose have appeared (or soon will) in Diode, Gulf Coast, Fence, The Normal School, Idaho Review, Copper Nickel, and Volt. Lee’s work as a translator has ranged from the Russian prose of Soviet-Kazakh science-fiction writer, Anatoli Kim, to, most recently, the poetry of Kim Ki Taek (in Korean Literature Now, Winter 2017). Past honors include a PEN/Open Book Award, a Minnesota Book Award, and an Asian American Literary Award (Members’ Choice). His forthcoming collection of poems will be published in 2018.

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