Karen An-hwei Lee

Winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2005



West Indian tree varying from flesh to auburn.
Hard tropical wood of the mahogany family.


One morning, the day room is too much.
Too much glare from the light.
She opens a letter from her mother.


A first bicycle, her father folding a paper airplane, her
mother's history books, her daughter asking, how long
did it take you to write a hundred pages,
sapphire star hiding
inside my heart, asterism, the widening and questioning
look of the blind woman when I say, it's over there; now
it's gone.


A box of breath. The thin walls of the box are pushed in
as air presses from the outside. A part of the ear, I believe,
behaves this way. I believe it's the tympanum, or a drum.
It may be useful in flight.


A brandy decanter in the day room, four feet tall, amber,
very still, and still very beautiful. It's in the shape of a
woman, a caryatid. Standing is her vocation. Her long
hair, her face, her feet, her long hands. The old couple
never tasted the brandy for all the years she stood quietly
corinthian in a corner of the day room.

Cole Swensen on Karen An-hwei Lee

In Medias Res is Karen An-hwei Lee's dictionary of faith. It slowly pieces together the life of a woman moving toward God, a god that accrues, just as language does, by adding bits meaningful in themselves into ever larger, though unprecedented, structures. Perhaps—we're led to consider—God is these words themselves, or is their definitions, or is the undefinable charge that bridges the gap between. Lee looks to language for her answer, keeping it very experimental, and yet composed of perfectly recognizable, even familiar phrases. It's the way she puts them together that seems always unexpected, always brand new on every page, and always a bit out of place, in the way that a grand piano would be out of place in parking lot—it's a sheer delight, and it enriches everything for miles around. It's also the guarantee that there are always new possibilities, always new forms that meaning can take, that God can take while yet remaining truly familiar— which is to say, our family.

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