Aubade with Bread and Water

Hyejung Kook


The quiet chill of a winter morning after
yet another fitful night, the baby rousing
to fuss and nurse again and again,
eyes closed as she roots for a nipple.
Sometimes I long for how we fit together,
her hair tickling my elbow, the warm press
of little feet against my thighs. Sometimes
I turn away, the crescent space between us
an urgent, necessary reprieve.

I put water to boil on the range, gaze at it
blankly until I realize she too is staring,
and we are looking at our reflection, distorted
by the kettle’s curve. She sits in the crook
of my left arm, her tummy round with milk,
mine looking pregnant still eight months later,
the kitchen lights a constellation around us.
I can’t make out the expressions on our faces.
I can’t tell if I could scour away the obscuring stains.

Too hungry to wait, I fiddle open a bag of bread
one-handed. Wheat, amaranth, honey. She watches
unblinking as I take a bite, then reaches out.
She has never held bread before. She has never
tasted bread before. Her hands grip fiercely,
squeeze and twist, slowly tearing that sweet softness
to pieces before shoving a crushed fistful into her mouth.
I clamp her against me to pick up what’s dropped
to the floor as the kettle whistles, then screams.


Hyejung Kook’s poems have appeared in POETRY MagazineDenver QuarterlyPrairie Schooner, Glass: A Journal of PoetryPleiades, and elsewhere. Other works include an essay in The Critical Flame and a chamber opera libretto. Born in Seoul, Korea, she now lives in Kansas with her husband and their two children.



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