Early in the Morning
While the long grain is soft- ening
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.
My mother combs,-- Li-Young Lee, ©1986.
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.
(Li-Young Lee was born in 1957 in Jakarta, Indonesia, of Chinese parents. In 1959, his father, after spending a year as a political prisoner in President Sukarno's jails, fled Indonesia with his family. Between 1959 and 1964 they traveled in Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, until arriving in America. Rose, the book from which this poem is taken, was published by BOA Editions, Ltd. upper left: utamaro kitagawa; edgar degas; gotosei kunisada; henri-edmond cross; utamaro kitagawa; edgar degas; gotosei kunisada.)