The Gift

Lee, Li-Young

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey
  • Date of entry: Apr-07-1999
  • Last revised: Jan-09-2007


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.


Like many of Lee's poems in Rose such as Persimmons (see this database), this poem tenderly recreates the complex relationship between father and son. An ordinary moment, the removal of a splinter, is used to exemplify the give and take, the wonder and harshness of that relationship.

Primary Source



BOA Editions

Place Published

Rochester, N.Y.