after the pyre

oillamp©papa osmubal

oillamp©papa osmubal

after the pyre
li-young lee

It turns out, what keeps you alive
as a child at mid-century
following your parents from burning
village to cities on fire to a country at war
with itself and anyone
who looks like you,

what allows you to pass through smoke,
through armed mobs singing the merits of a new regime,
tooth for a tooth,
liberation by purification, and global
dissemination of the love of jealous gods,
coup d’etat, coup de grace, and the cooing of mothers
and doves and screaming men
and children caught in the pyre’s updraft,

what keeps you safe even among your own,
the numb, the haunted, the maimed, the barely alive,

tricks you learned to become invisible,
escapes you perfected, playing dead, playing
stupid, playing blind, deaf, weak, strong,
playing girl, playing boy, playing native, foreign,
in love, out of love, playing crazy, sane, holy, debauched,

playing scared, playing brave, happy, sad, awake, asleep
playing interested, playing bored, playing broken,
playing “Fine, I’m just fine,” it turns out,

. .

now that you’re older
at the beginning of a new century,
what kept you alive
all those years keeps you from living.

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