November Lit: "When I Am Nianqing As An Octogenarian" by Karen An-hwei Lee

November 5, 2013

Image by storebukkebruse via Flickr

November brings us a lovely poem by Karen An-hwei Lee, wherein a speaker ruminates simultaneously on aging and youth. The poem is filled with gentle sibilances and delicate images that emulate the ephemeral quality life. Read this one somewhere quiet, where you can sit with it afterwards. 

-- Karissa Chen, Fiction & Poetry Editor

A glyph falls in the light                   sill to floor.
                         Nianqing is young.
On the noon of my fortieth year, I say the word lin,
fish-scale in Mandarin. 
Neither youthful nor ancient                  halfway to eight-zero,  
a seamless mark divides my longevity --  if I live
to eighty – an octogenarian rises  
                         with a blue-green wealth of years, 
                         glistening sloughed lin.  Lying on
the ocean under my soul, praying for years to sum 
not merely pleasure -- silver-haired as a mottled orchid,
                                    an octogenarian whispers a thought,
then a riddle --

                         Do  you remember a young woman
                                         who once wrote a ghazal? 
                         She spoke my name, this one. 
                         The stanzas wept syllables
                         until its rhymes were thin as star-trails,
                         thinner than fish-scales --  

                                                                       Who is she?


Karen An-Hwei Lee

Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo Press, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo Press, 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande Books, 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award.  Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria, 2013), was selected for the Cambria World Sinophone Series. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley.