Early in the Morning

By Li-Young Lee b. 1957 Li-Young Lee
While the long grain is softening
in the water, gurgling
over a low stove flame, before
the salted Winter Vegetable is sliced
for breakfast, before the birds,
my mother glides an ivory comb
through her hair, heavy
and black as calligrapher’s ink.

She sits at the foot of the bed.
My father watches, listens for
the music of comb
against hair.

My mother combs,
pulls her hair back
tight, rolls it
around two fingers, pins it
in a bun to the back of her head.
For half a hundred years she has done this.
My father likes to see it like this.
He says it is kempt.

But I know
it is because of the way
my mother’s hair falls
when he pulls the pins out.
Easily, like the curtains
when they untie them in the evening.

Reprinted from Rose, BOA Editions, Ltd., 1986, by permission of the publisher, www.boaeditions.org. Copyright © 1986 Li-Young Lee, whose most recent book of poetry is “Book of My Nights,” BOA Editions, Ltd., 2001.

Source: Rose (BOA Editions Ltd., 1986)

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Poet Li-Young Lee b. 1957

Subjects Living, Marriage & Companionship, Relationships, Men & Women, Home Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Li-Young  Lee

Biography

Li-Young Lee was born in Djakarta, Indonesia in 1957 to Chinese political exiles. Both of Lee’s parents came from powerful Chinese families: Lee’s great grandfather was the first president of the Republic of China, and Lee’s father had been the personal physician to Mao Tse-tsung. In Indonesia, Dr. Lee helped found Gamaliel University. Anti-Chinese sentiment began to foment in Indonesia, however, and Lee’s father was arrested . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Marriage & Companionship, Relationships, Men & Women, Home Life

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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