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To pull the metal splinter from my palm 
my father recited a story in a low voice. 
I watched his lovely face and not the blade. 
Before the story ended, he’d removed 
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from. 

I can’t remember the tale, 
but hear his voice still, a well 
of dark water, a prayer. 
And I recall his hands, 
two measures of tenderness 
he laid against my face, 
the flames of discipline 
he raised above my head. 

Had you entered that afternoon 
you would have thought you saw a man 
planting something in a boy’s palm, 
a silver tear, a tiny flame. 
Had you followed that boy 
you would have arrived here, 
where I bend over my wife’s right hand. 

Look how I shave her thumbnail down 
so carefully she feels no pain. 
Watch as I lift the splinter out. 
I was seven when my father 
took my hand like this, 
and I did not hold that shard 
between my fingers and think, 
Metal that will bury me, 
christen it Little Assassin, 
Ore Going Deep for My Heart. 
And I did not lift up my wound and cry, 
Death visited here! 
I did what a child does 
when he’s given something to keep. 
I kissed my father.

The Gift – Li-Young Lee

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