The poems in "Behind My Eyes" undulate between the past and present, painful memories and the road to enlightenment. The language, fittingly enough, also swings – from eloquent to intellectual, piercing to plainspoken – sometimes in just a few stanzas. This reflects the tension that underlies the collection. Li-Young Lee, who was born to Chinese parents living in Indonesia, holds dual citizenship, so to speak, in history – with its losses and traumas – and in hope, which is grounded in things that can't be seen. Sometimes Lee succeeds in straddling the two, and sometimes he begins in one realm and the poem leads him into the other. The book is strongest – and at times stunning – when Lee moves toward the metaphysical, as in these lines from "Becoming Becoming": "All of time began when you first answered/ to the names your mother and father gave you./ Soon those names will travel with the leaves./ Then, you can trade places with the wind." Other poems also offer transcendent moments, where Lee soars above uncertainty.
Thirst, by Mary Oliver, Beacon Press, $14