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."


Lee, of Chinese heritage, spent his first seven years moving with his family from one Asian country to another before arriving in America; his father was an escaped political prisoner from Indonesia. Lee's poem stands on its own but is also interesting to use in a discussion of cultural diversity, together with poems written by authors representing other ethnic groups, such as Sandra Cisneros (Latina, see this database), Lucille Clifton (African-American, see this database), Linda Hogan (Native-American, see this database).

Primary Source




Place Published

Brockport, N.Y.


1986 (paperback)