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Li-Young Lee

Tearing the Page

Every wise child is sad.


Every prince, is a member of the grass.


Each bud opening opens on the unforeseen.


Every wind-strewn flower is God tearing God.


And the stars are leaves
blown across my grandmother's lap.
Or the dew multiplying.


And of time's many hands, who can tell
the bloody from the perfumed,


the ones that stitch
from the ones that rip.


Every laughing child is forgetful.
Every solitary child rules the universe.


And the child who can't sleep
learns to count, a patient child.


And the child who counts negotiates
between limit and longing,
infinity and subtraction.


Every child who listens
all night to the wind eventually


knows his breathing turns a wheel
pouring time and dream to leave no trace.


Though he can't tell what a minute weighs,
or is an hour too little or too long.


As old as night itself,
he's not old enough in the morning
to heat his milk on the stove.


But he knows about good-byes.
Some of them, anyway. The good-bye
at the door each morning, a kiss for a kiss.
The good-bye at bedtime,
stories and songs until it's safe to close his eyes.


And maybe he's even heard about the waiting room
at Union Station, where dust and echoes climb
to the great skylights


accompanied by farewells
of the now-going, to join the distant
farewells of the long gone,


while a voice announces the departure
of the Twentieth Century for all points West.


Yes, every wise child is heart-broken.
A sorrowing pip,


he knows the play
he's called away from each evening
is the beginning and end of order
in a human household.


He's sure his humming to himself
and his rising and falling ball are appointed
by ancient laws his own heart-tides obey.


But he can't tell anybody what he knows.


Old enough to knot his shoelaces,
he's not old enough to unknot them.


Old enough to pray, he doesn't always
know who to pray to.


Old enough to know to close the window
when it storms, old enough to know the rain,
given the chance, would fall on him,


and darken him, and darken him, the way
he himself colors the figures
he draws, pressing so hard he tears the page.