Li-Young Lee – “Eating Together” … the hum of spiders

the hum of spiders: an anthology of works & words

Li-Young Lee

Eating Together

In the steamer is the trout
seasoned with slivers of ginger,
two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.
We shall eat it with rice for lunch,
brothers, sister, my mother who will
taste the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago. Then he lay down
to sleep like a snow-covered road
winding through pines older than him,
without any travelers, and lonely for no one.


Li-Young Lee is as strong a poet of family as one can read. He creates an atmosphere of home that is vivid and inviting – even when he conjures up the small terrors that familial relationships can display. The image of father looms in a number of his best poems. In “Eating Together,” Lee focuses on the absence of father, or, more precisely, on the family space the father once occupied.

“Eating Together,” a poem that melds the tenderness of family with the ache of loss, begins with rich smells of a meal. I like Lee’s attention to detail here: “slivers of ginger, / two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.” The “we” of line four gives the family a hallowed moment – this is the clearest descriptive for how I react to these lines – that is made warm by their gathering around the table for the meal that is surely a good-bye to the dead father.

The physical motions of the mother, probably addressing her own grief, recall the recent past, tasting

the sweetest meat of the head,
holding it between her fingers
deftly, the way my father did
weeks ago.

Human action in most of Lee’s works, and certainly in this poem, takes on an almost sacred presence. This meal is such a beautiful setting, created by a handful of words.

In the closing lines, however, the warm scene surrenders to the cold inevitability of loss. Lee finishes the poem with a powerful simile for death: “a snow-covered road / winding through pines.” The loss is real, and is felt in the depth of the silent, snowy road, a strong poetic visual that recalls the haunting images from the artist Hiroshige Ando. It’s the final line that I can’t escape – a road with no travelers but “lonely for no one.”


This poem connects directly in my head with the art of Hiroshige Ando.

Mariko, from the Reisho Tokaido series, by Hiroshige Ando


~ by samofthetenthousandthings on December 7, 2011.

2 Responses to “Li-Young Lee – “Eating Together” … the hum of spiders”

  1. Loved the poem and the print and your thoughts about the poem itself.

    The last line reminds me of zen and haiku.

  2. The last line is very like haiku. Yes. Lee’s closing image is so strong. I connect completely. Glad you like this piece, Berit.

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