Original Poem Reprinted Online Here: "Early in the Morning" by Li-Young Lee
More Information about the Poet: Li-Young Lee
I do have to write that I think Rose is one of the best collections I've read. there are so many poems that are so memorable: "Rose" and "The Gift" naming just two. This poem, "Early in the Morning" has all the trademarks of that collection: striking images, hidden (or overt) sensuality, and how a connection is made.
In the first stanza there's a very specific image of, "While the long grain is softening / in the water, gurgling / over a low stove flame," Note the passive verb of "is softening" and how this verb sets up the tempo of the poem. Soften and passive. But also note the slow flame as though to build up something. And within the same stanza, this image appears, "my mother glides an ivory comb / through her hair, heavy / and black as calligrapher's ink." Although it seems like these are opposing images, I feel these images add on top of each other -- how the hard rice turns soft is like how the hair is turned from a heavy image to something soft and curled up. This may be a stretch, but I feel there's some sort of connection there.
The narrative of the mother continues:
She sits at the foot of the bed.
My father watches, listens for
the music of comb
The interesting part of this stanza is how domestic the lines stay even with the metaphor. The music of the comb isn't overly whimsical or unbelievable. The music of combing is a personal sound. Something that the father has heard for years, and something the mother has played for an equal amount of time. This is how a connection is formed -- just subtle things like this that turn out to be extraordinary.
The next stanza states how she does her 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.
The language here is innocuous and the metaphors and similes used earlier is not here. This is the literal description is then contrasted with this sort of hyperbolic line, "For a half a hundred years she has done this" The description of time is pretty purply, but with reason -- there's a sense of mystery behind "half a hundred years" since there's the question about the other half -- age, time, etc. The focus is how time is perceived rather than how time elapses.
"My father likes to see it like this. / He says it is kempt." This is a very firm and directly ordered line, but like the mystery quality, this line holds a secret.
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.
There's a sense of sensuality with the last stanza with the mother's hair falling and the father pulling out the pin. A certain type of intimacy that, yes, has a power notion to it, but also a sense of trust of winding and unwinding. Then the last image of the curtains untying -- it's something I can imagine. The curtains hiding the couple.