Karen An-Hwei Lee: “Say If Not a Moon”

I live near the sea.

Even if I can’t see the ocean from my window, its marina fog reaches miles inland to my sill, carrying a disembodied yet corporeal, saline quality in the air. This first inklings of this poem surfaced with a memory of a full moon over the sea close to midnight, unfurling turn by turn its uncurious, empty mode of witness – a nocturnal silver screen of its own obscurantism, or a tabula rasa for diverse fables and mythologies – “eye without an iris,” if one can even call the moon a type of witness, an utterly oblivious one. Its image glided quietly in chiaroscuro, glossing an obsidian surf late at night. To this end, the poem concludes with the radiant darkness of a new moon, “this pupil of light.” On a final note, I was pondering theological questions about God hiding, or God’s purported there-ness while apparently not there, when oftentimes we’re most likely the ones who exist here without here-ness: God is there.


Say If Not a Moon

+++++++++++Gliding in circles, a moon slides in from the sea
and will exit again at high tide.
+++++No larger than a fin, the moon scales our eucalyptus grove.

The moon sleeps in a house where shadows are no longer in love.
Moon on a woman’s hand+++++++mirrors the carbon symmetries

+++++++++++++++++++of the charcoal she holds – sketching.
+++++++Night is the new moon++++++++shorn for a letter
mailed overseas.++++++I hear no farewell nor see nostalgia

in a lunar cloud.
++++++++++++++++The low tide where a moon circles

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++finned without gills
swallows a star whose own name nobody knows. Eye without an iris

observes a faded world++++++++++++without judgment

+++++++++++++++++++++++++waiting on God.
What I did not hear this evening or failed to see:

Not-a-moon humming
+++++++++++++++++++this pupil of light.

Karen An-Hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo, 2008) and In Media Res (Sarabande, 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she serves as Full Professor of English and Chair at a small liberal arts college in greater Los Angeles, where she is also a novice harpist. Lee is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.