Early in the Morning by Li-Young Lee

Of all the poems I’ve read so far in my life, there are poets whom I admire so much, I would be speechless if they suddenly appear before me now. I know there will never be another one like them, and I keep their poems reverently, knowing I could never write like that, think like that. And then there are poets whom I love so deeply, whose works touch me in ways I cannot imagine, who give me heartache, who make me wish sometimes that I could write that way, write like them, even just a little, just a tiny brush of their souls against mine. Today I was reading Li-Young Lee, and I cannot help but feel that tug around my heart. I sigh, I wish for a cigarette, I stare outside while I remember this poem over and over in my head.

Early in the Morning
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.

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