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Lee Herrick


The in-flight magazine crossword partially done,

a corner begun here, scratched out answers there,

one set of answers in pencil, another in the green.

The woman with the green ball point knew

the all-time hit king is Rose and the Siem Reap

treasure is Angkor Wat. The woman, perhaps en route

to hold her dying mother’s hand in Seattle, forgot

about death for ten minutes while remembering

husband’s Cincinnati Reds hat while gardening after

the diagnosis. Her handwriting was so clean. Maybe

she was a surgeon. Maybe a painter. No. What painter

wouldn’t know 17 down, Diego’s love, five letters?

In a rush, her dying mother’s voice came back

to her, or maybe she was Chinese and her mother’s

imagined voice said, wo ai ni. At 30,000 feet,

you focus on 33 across, Asian American classic,

The Woman ________, when a stranger in the window

seat sees the clue, watches me write in W, and she says

Warrior, and for a moment you forget it is your favorite

memoir, and she reminds you of lilies or roses, Van Gogh

or stems with thorns, art galleries in romantic cities

where she is headed but you should not go. The flight

attendant grazes my shoulder. The crossword squares,

the letters, the chairs and aisles seem so tight in flight,

but there is nothing here but room, really.

Maybe the next passenger will know

what I do not: 64 down, five letters, Purpose.

And why do we remember what we do? We know

the buzz of Dickinson’s fly and the number of years

in Marquez’s solitude, but some things we will never

know, as it should be: why the body sometimes rumbles

like a plane hurtling over southern Oregon, how exactly

we fall in love, or if Frida and Maxine Hong

Kingston would have loved the same kind of tea.

Dear _________________,

When you lost me, or when your heart caved,

or when your heart flew through the city like wild herons

on the ledge of my broken window sill in another country,

you name infinity as the home of your intoxication,

ferment as the placeholder for love, the ocean sized grace

of our common language, the ocean sized chance in this

moment. Grace. That’s what I meant to tell you about.

I saw it a few times in my life. I saw my daughter cradle

the broken body of a tiny bird. I saw a young poet

repair the broken charm of a younger poet. I saw that

poet forgive another poet by a stream in the City of God,

by a monument for mothers like you who write poems

about men like me, who write by the ocean with their dogs

waking in the morning cool, the wild seabirds searching

the waves for a small fish to devour.

How Music Stays in the Body

Your body is a song called birth

or first mother, a miracle that gave birth

to another exquisite song. One song raises

three boys with a white husband. One song

fought an American war overseas. One song leapt

from fourteen stories high, and like a dead bird,

shattered into the clouds. Most forgot the lyrics

to their own bodies or decided to paint abstracts

of mountains or moons in the shape of your face.

I’ve been told Mothers don’t forget the body.

I can’t remember your face, the shape or story,

or how you held me the day I was born, so

I wrote one thousand poems to survive.

I want to sing with you in an open field,

a simple room, or a quiet bar. I want to hear

your opinions about angels. Truth is, angels drink,

too— soju spilled on the halo, white wings sticky

with gin, as if any mother could forget the music

that left her. You should hear how loudly I sing

now. I’ve become a ballad of wild dreams and coping

mechanisms. I can breathe now through any fire.

I imagine I got this from him or you, my earthly

inheritance: your arms, your sigh, your heavy song.

I know all the lyrics. I know all the blood.

I know why angels howl in the moonlight.

-from Scar and Flower, Word Poetry Books, 2018, selected by POW Spring 2020 Guest Editor Luke Johnson

BIO: LEE HERRICK is the author of three books of poems, Scar and Flower, Gardening Secrets of the Dead, and This Many Miles from Desire. His poems appear widely in literary magazines, textbooks, anthologies, including Columbia Poetry Review, The Poetry Foundation, One for the Money: The Sentence as Poetic Form, Indivisible: Poems of Social Justice, and Here: Poems for the Planet, with an introduction by the Dalai Lama. He is co-editor of The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit (forthcoming in Spring 2020 by Orison Books). Born in Daejeon, Korea and adopted to the United States at ten months, he lives in Fresno, California. He served as Fresno Poet Laureate (2015-2017) and teaches at Fresno City College and the MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College.

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