"The Gift" by Li-Young Lee
To pull the metal splinter from my palm my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade. Before the story ended, he’d removed the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well of dark water, a prayer. And I recall his hands,
two measures of tendernes she laid against my face,the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man planting something in a boy’s palm, a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail downso carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out I was seven when my fathertook my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my flngers and think,Metal that will bury me,christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
When he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
"Lady Freedom Among Us" by Rita Dove
don’t lower your eyes
or stare straight ahead to where
you think you ought to be going
don’t mutter oh no
not another one
get a job fly a kite
go bury a bone
with her oldfashioned sandals
with her leaden skirts
with her stained cheeks and whiskers and heaped up trinkets
she has risen among us in blunt reproach
she has fitted her hair under a hand-me-down cap
and spruced it up with feathers and stars
slung over one shoulder she bears
the rainbowed layers of charity and murmurs
all of you even the least of you
don’t cross to the other side of the square
don’t think another item to fit on a tourist’s agenda
consider her drenched gaze her shining brow
she who has brought mercy back into the streets
and will not retire politely to the potter’s field
having assumed the thick skin of this town
its gritted exhaust its sunscorch and blear
she rests in her weathered plumage
don’t think you can ever forget her
don’t even try
she’s not going to budge
no choice but to grant her space
crown her with sky
for she is one of the many
and she is each of us
Flash Cards by Rita Dove
In math I was the whiz kid, keeper
of oranges and apples. What you don’t understand,
master, my father said: the faster
I answered, the faster they came.
I could see one bud on the teacher’s geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip trees always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.
My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark
before sleep, before a thin voice hissed
numbers as I spun on a wheel. I had to guess.
Ten, I kept saying, I’m only ten.