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Sample Poems by Lee Herrick

Gardening Secrets of the Dead

When the light pivots, hum - not so loud
the basil will know, but enough
to water it with your breath.
Gardening has nothing to do with names
like lily or daisy. It is about verbs like uproot,
traverse, hush. We can say it has aspects of memory
and prayer, but mostly it is about refraction and absence,
the dead long gone when the plant goes in. A part of the body.
Water and movement, attention and dirt.

Once, I swam off the coast of Belize and pulled
seven local kids along in the shallow Caribbean,
their brown bodies in the blue water behind me,
the first one holding my left hand like a root,
the last one dangling his arm under the water
like a lavender twig or a flag in light wind.
A dead woman told me: Gardening,
simply, is laughing and swimming
a chorus of little brown miracles
in water so clear you can see yourself
and your own brown hands becoming clean.


If all the words in the world
rhyme, then

oranges taste like being alive,
ascent rhymes

with stop here, please
the grace of exiting rhymes

with the drunk pissing
The scarf rhymes

with the cost
no idea how

an hour moves this slow.

All we want is to not be watched.
All the glitches hiss.

Medicate. Meditate.
Korea, homeland. Go quietly

then resist
how perfect you are, this time

Why I Travel

Because Frida painted spines and blues
Because I wanted to learn the velocity of malaise
Because I needed to sit in Lima's sloping plazas
Because I was born in Korea and raised
in the Bay Area's hills and Modesto's orchard acoustics
Because the valley wants you to and the city wants you to
Because wars unfold into other little wars
and I saw how some bombs detonate on your very own bridge
Because I saw the Salvadoran woman shape the pupusa
and her daughter shaping God's face on the comal
Because your voice on the other side of the world
still sounds like your voice
Because the Great Wall may well stun you
Because the Mekong River may well stun you
Because Lake Calhoun may well stun you
Because Qingdao's beach may stun you
Because El Paso's writers may stun you
Because the birds in my city may well stun you

If We Are What We Eat

I am the raw jellied crab
in a small room in Insadong

I am pork browning on the barbecue
the lavender bud under the tongue

I am you and not you, the document
of black ink and number sequences

I am stacks of ham
and the dead scorpion in Beijing

the squid in Incheon, all the blossoms
from the tree in full bloom,

the trees and the bark, the wood
fire, the cold beer,

the fish I want to be but cannot be,
how I am not myself

but I am my skin, my hair,
slivers of black moon like ice.