Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Self-Help for Fellow Refugees

I stumbled on this poem a few months ago and had been trying like mad to find it again. I just found it last week. Here's part of the poet's bio that I lifted from PBS: Li-Young Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents who had been exiled from China. After fleeing the regime of Indonesian President Sukarno in 1959 through Hong Kong, Macau and Japan, the family settled in the United States in 1964.

If your name suggests a country where bells
might have been used for entertainment,
or to announce the entrances and exits of the seasons,
or the birthdays of gods and demons,

it's probably best to dress in plain clothes
when you arrive in the United States,
and try not to talk too loud.

If you happen to have watched armed men
beat and drag your father
out the front door of your house
and into the back of an idling truck
before your mother jerked you from the threshold
and buried your face in her skirt folds,
try not to judge your mother too harshly.

Don't ask her what she thought she was doing
turning a child's eyes
away from history.

Maybe there was too much screaming
and weeping and the noise of guns in the streets.
It doesn't matter.

What matters is this:
The kingdom of heaven is good.

But heaven on earth is better.

Thinking is good.
But living is better.

Alone in your favorite chair
with a book you enjoy
is fine. But spooning
is even better.


  1. I don't want to trivialise the serious stuff in that poem, but I think I might just adopt the final stanza as a personal motto :)

  2. My whole world kinda stopped when I start reading the poem. So powerful...

    It reminded me a little bit of the movie "Heaven and Earth" in the 90's. I think I've watched that movie over 10 times when I was a child.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Good poem.... people matter...
    Life matters....
    Live, Love, Laugh, Cry, LIVE!