Thursday, April 01, 2010

(Inter)National Poetry Month + Poems: Lucille Clifton & Ai

It wouldn't be (Inter)National Poetry Month without some J's Theater poems, would it? So, to start us off, here are poems by Lucille Clifton (1936-2010) and Ai (1947-2010), both of whom have left us with their words this year. I won't post bios, as those are widely available; I'll let their artistry, so differently and amply demonstrated in these works, speak for them.

wishes for sons

by Lucille Clifton

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town
and the last tampon.
i wish them no 7-11.

i wish them one week early
and wearing a white skirt.
i wish them one week late.

later i wish them hot flashes
and clots like you
wouldn't believe. let the
flashes come when they
meet someone special.
let the clots come
when they want to.

let them think they have accepted
arrogance in the universe,
then bring them to gynecologists
not unlike themselves.

Lucille Clifton, "wishes for sons" from Next: New Poems. Copyright © 1987 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.

Source: Next: New Poems (BOA Editions, Ltd., 1987)


Nothing But Color

by Ai

for Yukio Mishima

I didn’t write Etsuko,
I sliced her open.
She was carmine inside
like a sea bass
and empty.
No viscera, nothing but color.
I love you like that, boy.
I pull the kimono down around your shoulders
and kiss you.
Then you let it fall open.
Each time, I cut you a little
and when you leave, I take the piece,
broil it, dip it in ginger sauce
and eat it. It burns my mouth so.
You laugh, holding me belly-down
with your body.
So much hurting to get to this moment,
when I’m beneath you,
wanting it to go on and to end.

At midnight, you say see you tonight
and I answer there won’t be any tonight,
but you just smile, swing your sweater
over your head and tie the sleeves around your neck.
I hear you whistling long after you disappear
down the subway steps,
as I walk back home, my whole body tingling.
I undress
and put the bronze sword on my desk
beside the crumpled sheet of rice paper.
I smooth it open
and read its single sentence:
I meant to do it.
No. It should be common and feminine
like I can’t go on sharing him,
or something to imply that.
Or the truth:
that I saw in myself
the five signs of the decay of the angel
and you were holding on, watching and free,
that I decided to go out
with the pungent odor
of this cold and consuming passion in my nose: death.
Now, I’ve said it. That vulgar word
that drags us down to the worms, sightless, predestined.
Goddamn you, boy.
Nothing I said mattered to you;
that bullshit about Etsuko or about killing myself.
I tear the note, then burn it.
The alarm clock goes off. 5:45 A.M.
I take the sword and walk into the garden.
I look up. The sun, the moon,
two round teeth rock together
and the light of one chews up the other.
I stab myself in the belly,
wait, then stab myself again. Again.
It’s snowing. I’ll turn to ice,
but I’ll burn anyone who touches me.
I start pulling my guts out,
those red silk cords,
spiraling skyward,
and I’m climbing them
past the moon and the sun,
past darkness
into white.
I mean to live.

Ai, “Nothing But Color” from Vice: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Ai. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,

Source: Vice: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1999)

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