Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Sunday Salon: Housewarming

This isn't my first Sunday Salon, but it is the first one here on SmallWorld Reads. I decided I needed a separate space for my reading life, as the books were crowding out my regular blog. In my real life—although I think about, read about, and talk about books a lot—I really only read in the evenings after the kids are in bed. (Well, except for all the reading I do with the kids.) So this is my after-hours, evening space now, devoted entirely to reading and writing. I am slowly working on transferring my book reviews over here, but that will likely take awhile.

In the meantime, I finished Susan's Breen's The Fiction Class this week. I was pleasantly surprised by this book that I pulled off the library shelf without a recommendation. Here is my review.

I'm taking full advantage of Mother's Day today. I've already read a few chapters of John Grisham's The Appeal and taken a nap. When I woke up from my nap, I thought about Li-Young Lee's book of poetry, Rose. I thought I remembered a poem he'd written about his mother. Of course I had to read the whole collection because you can't stop reading Li-Young Lee. The poem I was thinking about is called "Early in the Morning," in which Lee describes the ritual of his mother's hair pinning:

Early in the Morning

While the long grain is softening
in the water, gurgling
over a low stove flame, before
the salted Winter Vegetable is sliced
for breakfast, before the birds,
my mother glides an ivory comb
through her hair, heavy
and black as calligrapher's ink.

She sits at the foot of the bed.
My father watches, listens for
the music of comb
against hair.

My mother combs,
pulls her hair back
tight, rolls it
around two fingers, pins it
in a bun to the back of her head.
For half a hundred years she has done this.
My father likes to see it like this.
He says it is kempt.

But I know
it is because of the way
my mother's hair falls
when he pulls the pins out.
Easily, like the curtains
when they untie them in the evening.

-- Li-Young Lee, ©1986

I love this book, and while the relationship between Lee's mother and father does play prominently throughout, it is the memory of his father that graces nearly every poem, unifying the whole collection. I was first introduced to the poetry of Li-Young Lee in graduate school, and during my time in graduate school he did a reading at the university. I loved the way he read his poems, clearly, softly, lyrically, exactly like his written voice. His imagery is powerful, his language precise and beautiful. My favorite in Rose is called "From Blossoms." For me, growing up in orchards, this poem is the perfect expression of a joyful life:

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

- Li-Young Lee ©1986

And so. I'm off for a short vacation to Colonial Williamsburg this week, which means a long car trip with Dr. H. driving, the kids watching DVDs, and me reading. I've got a good stack of books to bring with me: The Appeal (Grisham), Paula (Isabel Allende), Astrid and Veronika (Linda Olsson), Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain), Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank (Celia Rivenbark), Winter Wheat (M. Walker) and New Stories from the South: 2007. I'm so glad I don't get car sick!


gautami tripathy said...

Good luck with your trip and reading. Thanks for sharing the poems. I loved both!

Anonymous said...

I think you've put your finger on a universal truth about poetry collections. Once you open the book it's very difficult to read just one poem. That one takes you onto another one and another and so on. When I was travelling a lot I used to take anthologies with me for the journey and I would inevitably find that I had read far more than I'd intended simply because each one reminded me of another that I simply had to read again.

Amy said...

I love your new book-blogging home! I hope you have a nice trip. I am, unfortunately, a person who get car sick if I read. Wish I didn't.


Marbel said...

Hey, welcome to blogger!

I loved Paula. Isabel Allende was one of my favorite authors for a long time though her later books (maybe after Paula) did not strike me so well.

Have a great trip. You can read in the car? Lucky you! I never could.

Anonymous said...

I adore Li-Young Lee--and From Blossoms is one of my favorite poems! We read it at my wedding! I feel so excited to see it posted here. I have it memorized actually, or at least I used to... I just stumbled on your blog and am so excited to see my book The Bright Side of Disaster on your TBR list! (If you get a chance to read or review it, please let me know!) (And I'd be happy to send you a copy to review if you'd like one!) Many thanks! Katherine