Showing 1 - 4 of 4 annotations associated with Lee, Li-Young
In the poem, persimmons are a symbol of several elements that have figured importantly in this Chinese narrator's life: they stand for painful memories of cultural barriers imposed by language and custom, and for a present-day loving connection to an elderly, blind father. The poet begins with a schoolboy incident in which he was punished for not knowing the difference between "persimmon" and "precision" and makes a play on other words which sound similar and "that got [him] into trouble." He takes revenge later, when the teacher brings to class a persimmon that only the narrator knows is unripe, as he "watched the . . . faces" without participating. Persimmons remind him of an adult sensual relationship with Donna, a Caucasian woman, and of his attempts to teach her Chinese words which he himself can no longer remember.
The second part of the poem describes the role persimmons have played in his father's life and in their relationship. To comfort his father, gone blind, the narrator gives him a sweet, ripe persimmon, so full and redolent with flavor that it will surely stimulate the senses remaining. Later yet again, the father and he "feel" a silk painting of persimmons, "painted blind / Some things never leave a person."
- Shafer, Audrey
The narrator, painlessly removing a splinter from his wife's hand, recalls the scene when he was a boy of seven and his father removed an "iron sliver" splinter from his palm. The father had skillfully distracted his son by telling a story in a voice reassuring and low: "a well / of dark water, a prayer."
Darker themes are alluded to--his father's hands were used not just to give love and protection, but also discipline. The narrator notes that as a boy he did not over-dramatize the scene. Rather, something precious was exchanged between father and son. In fact, it could have appeared to the onlooker that the father was "planting" (rather than removing) "a silver tear, a tiny flame" on his son's palm. The poem ends with the boy holding the removed splinter and kissing his father.
Water is a metaphor for the life cycle as the poet chronicles the role played by water in his life, in all our lives--"the sac of water we live in." The poet evokes the sound of water as he moves through life stages: swaying trees register the sound of the water from which we emerge at birth, "the sound of sighing" denotes the sound made as he washes his dying father’s feet, whispering rain "outlives us."
The poem is replete with images of water that conjure up family relationships over time. In the ocean of his childhood, his athletic brother cannot swim while his crippled sister swims like a "glimmering fish." Water is a visible symptom of the congestive heart failure suffered by his father--"swollen, heavy . . . bloated"-- whose "respirator mask makes him look like a diver."
As the poet tends to his father, testing the wash water "with my wrist" like a parent, there is a powerful recollection of the father’s earlier ordeal as a political prisoner. Finally, there is water that liberated the family, bringing them from Indonesia to America, juxtaposed against the water that is now drowning the father.
Summary:The speaker recalls his need to call forth a "slender memory" of his father. This memory from childhood is both "painful" and "sweet." In contrast to his father, who, as a political prisoner had devised complex mnemonics, the speaker has a haphazard memory. But is it his memory, or what he recalls that is "illogical"? "My father loved me. So he spanked me. / It hurt him to do so. He did it daily." The speaker remembers, also, how his father protectively wrapped him in his own sweater to shield him from cold. Years later, the speaker wears the sweater.