The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Connotary by Ae Hee Lee

This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Connotary by Ae Lee Hee, released by Bull City Press in 2021. 

Kimchi :: In Trujillo


My mother and her wooden cooking spoon. A pot filled with water
and an ambiguous amount of all-purpose flour
instead of rice flour. She stirs. The water turns milky. It turns
thicker, stickier—the smell of starch dissipates into the air.
It occurs to me that my mother’s arm is an orbiting moon, unable to escape
the gravity of a planet much larger than itself.


My mother with salt on the palm of her hand, her arm extending
toward a ray of noon. She compares the Peruvian salt to another
memory. This unfamiliar salt in front of her eyes
is a thinner crystal. She licks her fingers. It’s slightly sour.
She asks me to come and have a taste, but I
have nothing to compare it with yet.


My mother slicing onions, spring onions, radishes—
into whatever size she thinks would be “a pleasure to eat.”
My mother’s measuring tool: her intuition, her philosophy
that a fixation with perfection deters one from pouring jeong
into the food. Jeong, she teaches me, is love
that comes with time, similar to the process of fermentation,
similar to the slow dyeing of brined leaves.


My mother’s concave back as she squats over the blue rim
of a plastic tub in the laundry room. The Napa cabbages inside are
as wide as my childish hips—rare in Trujillo, rare like the Korean pepper flakes
my mother has been saving by mixing them with ají panca. The translucent
plastic gloves covering her hands are smeared with bright candy red
and the green of spring onions. She tells me to go sleep first. I dream of her
hands carefully running between the cabbage leaves, even today,
half a continent away, making sure no white spot is left untouched.

Born in South Korea, raised in Peru, Ae Hee Lee currently lives in the U.S. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks: Dear bear, (Platypus Press, 2021), Bedtime || Riverbed (Compound Press, 2017), and Connotary, which was selected as the winner for the 2021 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming at Poetry Magazine, Poetry Northwest, The Georgia Review, New England Review, and Southern Review, among others.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.


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