Recorded as part of the Poem-a-Day series, September 24, 2015
About this Poem 

“This poem explores the nature of witness. It can transform our lives by raising awareness through the power of valid eyewitness testimony, yet when inadequate or misused, it can also harbor a dangerous potential to exploit or objectify, i.e., voyeurism and cultural tourism. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Karen An-hwei Lee

Dear Millennium, Inadequate Witness

Say we no longer bear witness to a body-politic of trauma
after revolution
                by anesthesia or erasure. Say we cover our eyes 
to crossed olive-wood beams on a hill.  Modes of witness   
expose our inadequacy, the human.  Forgetting
is a sign—yes, a thing once existed. Say we are unworthy
of witness, internal or external—
                         our damaged wisdom, for instance,
our diminished capacity for empathy
             and heightened apathy to torture
mingled with doves     
                      of unfettered desire
                                         or an eclipsed divine.

Copyright © 2015 by Karen An-hwei Lee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

Copyright © 2015 by Karen An-hwei Lee. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 24, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets

Karen Anhwei Lee

Karen An-hwei Lee

Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of three books, including Phyla of Joy (Tupelo, 2012), Ardor (Tupelo, 2008), and In Media Res (Sarabande, 2004), winner of the Norma Faber First Book Award.

by this poet

poem
In the bronze skin of your rain-mottled angel of immigration
who looks forward 
                          with a faux diamond clasp 
               of upward mobility on her watery clavicle, 
                                       inner rain called mizzle is shining— 
a frayed chrome-polishing