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O: An Elegy

by Ae Hee Lee


O to forget limón
isn’t lemon O the slow
scent of fresh rind

to forget
how all things are
made of mind
even stone O and spice

to forget the equivalent
of a centimeter
in inches O the width
of my mother’s back

the rate it shrinks O

down the spiral
staircase of my arms O i’m losing
count of my selves


i won’t forget
the O children in Trujillo
who said they loved me O loved
and mispronounced
my name

but i will

and i’ll give them
faceless frames O
wooden tops and strings O

they’ll grow
out of them O like i should
or shouldn’t (O i forget)

find forgiveness
in their forgetfulness

O most days
i forget how to speak
that thin reed

how to twist it O braid
a lie
a ladder

with such a tongue


O who knows
why the dead
roadkill is left
behind and behind

at fifty-five miles per hour O why
do words O stay O
have kernels that weigh
just enough


this O

isn’t deterioration
this deterioration O just body

O everybody knows
every day dies
like a grotto
unprayed into ruins O and yet

how some mouths
cradle starlings O small hymns
that flutter for each

which dies O everyday


how some days i want
i want so O suddenly
to be naked O

from these shoes
and dance

like i used to with a boy

of O sun-varnished hands
pinch a cloud O let it shudder
over shoulders

O over our fading

I’m baffled by memory: its fickleness and fragility, how these very qualities compel us to treasure and honor. There are times I feel embarrassed because I can’t recall the minute details of happenings, places, names, and bodies. Though generally it’s deemed natural to forget some things, and I consider myself rather unskilled in the art of remembrance, I started questioning how much of it was me deciding, consciously or unconsciously, which things were important to me or I wanted to commit to memory. Tiny pieces constantly disappeared into an ocean of blurred edges I didn’t follow, since I was seemingly busy pushing forwards, but then I asked myself who would I be without these memories, these smallnesses. Even the unreliable ones have shaped me. And isn’t the way we remember also part of who we are or wish to be?

This poem was a kind of following. We write elegies to remember, retrace. Or, at least, to try. I think there’s something wondrous in our attempts.

Born in South Korea and raised in Peru, Ae Hee Lee is the author of poetry chapbooks Bedtime || Riverbed, Dear bear, and Connotary. Most recently, her full-length poetry collection ASTERISM has been awarded the 2022 Dorset Prize by John Murillo and will be published by Tupelo Press in 2024.