Li-Young Lee


Li-Young Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents. His father had been a personal physician to Mao Zedong while in China, and relocated the family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. In 1959, the Lee family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964. Lee attended the University of Pittsburgh and University of Arizona, and the State University of New York at Brockport. He has taught at several universities, including Northwestern and the University of Iowa. He is the author of The Undressing (W. W. Norton, 2018); Behind My Eyes (W. W. Norton, 2008); Book of My Nights (BOA Editions, 2001), which won the 2002 William Carlos Williams Award; The City in Which I Love You (BOA Editions, 1990), which was the 1990 Lamont Poetry Selection; and Rose (BOA Editions, 1986), which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award.  He has been the recipient of a Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, a Lannan Literary Award, a Whiting Writer's Award, the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award, the I. B. Lavan Award, three Pushcart Prizes, and grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. In 1998, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from State University of New York at Brockport. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife and their two sons. Source

This Room and Everything In It

Lie still now

while I prepare for my future,

certain hard days ahead,

when I’ll need what I know so clearly this moment.


I am making use

of the one thing I learned

of all the things my father tried to teach me:

the art of memory.


I am letting this room

and everything in it

stand for my ideas about love

and its difficulties.


I’ll let your love-cries,

those spacious notes

of a moment ago,

stand for distance.


Your scent,

that scent

of spice and a wound,

I’ll let stand for mystery.


Your sunken belly

is the daily cup

of milk I drank

as a boy before morning prayer.

The sun on the face

of the wall

is God, the face

I can’t see, my soul,


and so on, each thing

standing for a separate idea,

and those ideas forming the constellation

of my greater idea.

And one day, when I need

to tell myself something intelligent

about love,


I’ll close my eyes

and recall this room and everything in it:

My body is estrangement.

This desire, perfection.

Your closed eyes my extinction.

Now I’ve forgotten my

idea. The book

on the windowsill, riffled by wind…

the even-numbered pages are

the past, the odd-

numbered pages, the future.

The sun is

God, your body is milk…


useless, useless…

your cries are song, my body’s not me…

no good… my idea

has evaporated… your hair is time, your thighs are song…

it had something to do

with death… it had something

to do with love.





Literary Movements:


Anthology Years:




Love & Relationships

Memory & The Past

Literary Devices:


a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences


a comparison between two unrelated things through a shared characteristic