cover image Mitochondrial Night

Mitochondrial Night

Ed Bok Lee. Coffee House, $16.95 (136p) ISBN 978-1-56689-532-3

The third book from Lee (Whorled) is best described using his own lines: “primitive and futuristic:/ part wood, grass, plastic/ castle, spaceship, cocoon, and cathedral/ of double helixes.” Winner of an American Book Award and a PEN/Open Book Award, Lee strikes a dizzying balance between the organic and the cosmic, the intimate and mythological. In these poems, time collapses to address historic events that influence the now and the yet-to-come. In “Ultrasound,” the speaker likens his unborn daughter to a photograph of his “unborn/ father’s newlywed parents// decades before the war./ In a black suit and silk hanbok,/ light pink or perhaps pale blue,// their adolescent faces float,/ grainy as all unresolved fates.” For Lee, “each body is an ark” spanning time periods and the inherited cells of whole communities that make up one’s lineage. These interconnections come through in language itself as Lee translates the words of his mother “from the man’s Spanish-accented, broken Russian on the Seoul-based news show’s translation into Korean that she’d watched.” Nothing is ever set, or as Lee writes, “Nothing alive snug in its name. Even art—like a great cargo ship veering/ starboard midsea—has at some indeterminate point in the night/ become inverted and backward.” [em](Mar.) [/em]