“Aftereffects” is an exploration of grief. Although inspired by the death of the Jiye Lee’s father, its remit broadens to consider other sources of grief and how individuals react and cope in the aftermath. A personal experience is widened to a universal experience. “Enigma with a Blackbird (After Pablo Neruda, Enigma with a Flower”, starts
“Grief. It has come silently. I did not know
it had perched,
the black figure that sits in my chest,
piecing itself a home,”
The poem ends,
“She spreads her wings – for a moment,
I breathe. Leaves behind an empty nest;
I hear a crack.”
It’s interesting that grief is maternal, building a nest, it suggests grief has a purpose. It creates a framework for bereavement, nudging the sufferer towards acceptance and adaption to circumstance. But it’s also “an empty nest”, something broken, what should be there dispersed and no longer present.
“Last Breath” acknowledges the poet was in Seoul while her family were in Cairo when her father passed away. The physical and emotional distance prompts her to ponder,
“Is his consciousness
circulating the universe?
Trying to find his way to heaven,
with me, here on Earth,
How much does a minute weigh?”
Time takes on a different shape in grief’s aftermath as the shock of loss becomes acceptance. “Rooms” uses two Biblical verses from John 14 that start “In my Father’s House there are many rooms…”
Recently, more than 470,000 Syrians
were put to death and displaced
trying to escape the civil war.
8000 dead and injured in Haiti.
. Games Room
. On a highway in Egypt, two vehicles collide
. Nobody cares to send help.
. A father of two and his Egyptian driver
. pronounced dead on the morning news:
. no compensation.”
The poem ends,
Does Father still smile
knowing how much it kills us
to live life with him gone?”
It’s curious that the unknown dead, the victims of war or fatally injured, are given specific rooms, but the poet’s father is given a numbered room. The lack of name suggests a lack of purpose, the poet’s not sure why her father had to die: he was just a number, one of many who passed away that day.
Adjusting to the absence is painful. “Assessment” is brief (complete poem):
“There’s a bridge. In Korea.
A well-known bridge,
in response to her question,
Could you tell me in more detail
as to how you thought of going about it?
Followed by the question,
Do you think about it now?”
The questions lack compassion, their aim to assess the intention behind the impulse. There’s no conclusion. The poem is about the emptiness and struggle for acceptance.
The collection ends on a note of hope, in “Seollal (Korean New Year)”, where a young girl has fallen asleep on a subway train,
“Her father worms out of his coat,
rolls it as best as he can, into a squished pupa.
Tipping his daughter’s head to the side,
he plumps it into place against the partition;
lets her head fall back to a pillow of goose down.
The little girl
continues to dream.”
Perhaps the poet also still dreams of her father. It’s a poignant image of paternal love.
“Aftereffects” is an engaging, eloquent exploration of bereavement and loss. Jiye Lee’s situation is personal but she broadens it out to be of wider interest. The relationship between father and daughter is delicately and accurately probed, showing readers what has been lost without telling them how to feel. The poems’ deceptive gentleness have readers focused on the sheen of a feather before re-reading and looking again shows the bird can fly.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.