“A Lesson in the Garden, or a Seaside Dystopia Confesses Unrequited Love and War” by Karen An-hwei Lee


A Lesson in the Garden, or a Seaside Dystopia Confesses Unrequited Love and War 

Dear America,

You cannot see the war from this seaside garden –  
                        yet each one draws nigh: a swelling tide
of algal biofuel and God.
By night, the mantle of a ruined world glows in its flaming, cavernous heart.
By noon, a glow-torch bougainvillea
                                                        dies in the arms of winter, then regenerates
in the spring. A gardener, whose son returned from the war, plants
                                               a single non-fruiting olive,

                                     virginal in its fire resistance, serene in its immunity
to xenophobia and famine alike.  Is it not a waste to fight what attacks over
               and over, a terminal disease, a relentless vector of hate?
The gardener says, this war, too, is my ravaged son: one small moment in history
                               is the desolation of centuries
                                                                                       of unwitnessed violence.  

               The one who goes to war,
                                               and one who instigates war,
                               in the end, are one
                               and the same: the same one who dies, one way
                                                               or another. Aliquid stat pro aliquo
                                                   something stands
                                                                               for something else.


Karen An-hwei Lee

Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo, 2008), and In Medias Res (Sarabande, 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. She authored a novel, Sonata in K (Ellipsis, 2017). Lee also wrote two chapbooks, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe, 2002) and What the Sea Earns for a Living (Quaci Press, 2014). Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria, 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series. Lee’s work appears in literary journals, such as The American Poet, Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, IMAGE: Art, Faith, Mystery, Journal of Feminist Studies & Religion, Iowa Review, and Columbia Poetry Review and was recognized by the Prairie Schooner / Glenna Luschei Award. She earned an MFA from Brown University and a PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, Lee is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle. Currently, she lives in San Diego and serves in the university administration at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Photo Credit: Lexi Clarke