Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sewer Blues + In the Garden

A little over half a decade ago, during the housing bubble's upward rise, President Bush, like countless other people on cable TV, at banks, at mortgage lenders, in the media, actively promoted home ownership. It was touted as a basic right, almost, anchor its centrality to the mythic American dream. (The more pressing issue of affordable housing, whether private or public, for everyone, was removed from public discourse.) As we now know, the bubble has burst completely, hundreds of thousands people have lost their homes and millions are underwater and unable to pay for them, hundreds of domestic banks have failed, and the US and global economies have taken a severe hit. I can't say I was prescient about or fully understood the housing bubble, though C and I were always skeptical of the ease with which so many people were snapping up homes, flipping them, and spending down their equity (I hadn't even realized the HELOC madness was going on until years later, though a close friend of mine lost his home in part because he'd used it like a charge card), given the hurdles we had to vault to purchase our house. I used to launch on this topic to people, and I'm sometimes wondered whether they were thinking, What a bore and so wrong too. On top of this, and again, I wasn't aware of the various schemes people were using to remodel, renovate, and rebuild homes, I also couldn't understand how nonchalant people were about the expenditures involved, based on our experiences with having to shell out small fortunes to address basic problems a house may eventually present, including but not limited to: addressing a leaking roof by having to completely re-tar and re-flash it; replacing a hot water heater; having a chimney properly lined; replacing an air conditioning and heating unit; and, this weekend, the replacement of a basement underground, 100-year-old ceramic drainpipe, breached in multiple places by a a giant sycamore's roots, that leads to the sewer line out front. This is only part 1; part two will involve tearing up the street out front and replacing the rest of the badly cracked pipe where it enters the sewer. (We've fortunately avoided two other nightmares many owners of older homes face: replacing the windows, and rewiring the house. The previous owner took care of those crises at some point in the 1970s and 1980s.) In all the huzzah about buying houses, there's never--or seldom, from what I can tell--any discussion of potential multiple costs beyond the mortgage and possibly remodeling, and no matter how well a house is built or has been maintained, the problems start to rack up with age. Of course if you told most people about these costs, they might decide not to go through with the purchase, but then again, you can't predict what'll need fixing, and unless you're a contractor yourself or have oodles of time on your hands, you may need to pay other people to do the job properly for you. (We went through four roofers, including one who wanted to cover the leaking chimney with stucco and chicken wire (!), one who went insane, and another, an Australian, who was crazy as a loon, but actually did what was needed and stopped water pouring into the walls.)  It leads me to say that home ownership is a wonderful thing, especially if you can afford it, but even if you can (just barely): buyer beware!

That said, one of the joys of owning a home can be having and cultivating a garden . Since I had to be home for the major repair, C and I spent part of today in the garden and did some new planting for this year. He'd already planted tomatoes, which are growing steadily.  Some of the perennials, like the roses; the rosemary bush, as tall as a tree; the African sage; the strawberry patches; the blackberry bushes; the azaleas; the lilac bush; the rhododendron; the butterfly bush; and the honeysuckle vines, are back, at superstrength. Curiously, the collard greens, which returned late in the summer and early fall, and which we didn't harvest, are growing again, with striking yellow flowers adorning the fence. We decided to change our herb and vegetable mix this year by planting oregano; tarragon; parsley; lavender; dill; and basil; and habanero peppers; sweet peppers; eggplants; cucumbers; zucchini; yellow squash; broccoli; snap peas; and heirloom and regular beets. (We'll have to put some red cabbage, carrots, and onions into the ground at a later date.) Working in the garden always is enjoyable, and today was calming counterpoint to watching the basement jackhammered and dug up, though its floor is now partially repaved and the new pipe is in, at least up to the sidewalk. After we pay for the rest of the necessary work, those homegrown herbs and produce will definitely come in handy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Marina Abramovic @ MoMa

A few weeks back I posted about Marina Abramovic's (1946-) doppelgänger, Brooklyn-based artist Anya Liftig, and since Abramovic's Museum of Modern Art show, "The Artist Is Present," began last month (March 14), I've been intending to catch it, and after one of my conceptual art/writing students described her experiences at the show, I vowed not to miss it. Though the nude artists reeneacting Abramovic's prior performances and the spectators misbehaving while interacting with to them have garnered the most attention, the centerpiece of the show is Abramovic's reprise of her durational performance piece on MoMa's second floor, "The Artist Is Present," in which she sits, motionless except for eyeblinks, facing any museum patron who wants to sit across the table from her.  She has performed this piece every day since the exhibit began, and will continue it through the end of the show, on May 31.

In the post I'd referenced above, Liftig dressed up as Abramovic, down to the single braid falling over her shoulder and proceeded to mirror her, sitting across from her motionlessly for the entire day, leaving only when the guard's ushered her out at the museum's closing. She labeled her corps-à-corps with Abramovic "The Anxiety of Influence," after Harold Bloom's famous study and theory.  I was curious to see if someone else would try Liftig's approach while I was at the museum, but no such luck. Nevertheless, when I arrived at the exhibit, amidst a large crowd drawn not only by the Abramovic show but by concurrent shows focusing on Tim Burton (sold out), Picasso (a crowd pleasure), and William Kentridge (which I also viewed), a young woman was sitting facing Abramovic intently, almost as if throwing down the gantlet, and I watched Abramovic and her for a while, trying to register any response on Abramovic's part while also trying to discern the ferocity I perceived on the young woman's face, in her posture, in her affect. It was almost as if she were viewing the performance as a form of mild combat, and her rigidity and stillness did not ebb in the slightest for the entire time that I watched them; Abramovic, for her part, slumped a bit forward, moving only her eyes, present in body and mind, a presence writing herself into the consciousness of everyone there. I was, almost in spite of myself, riveted by them.

My iPhone sketch of Marina AbramovicThere wasn't a long line, so I could have gotten in it and possibly faced Abramovic, but I wasn't sure I was ready to do so--if you do face her, you consent to being both photographed and filmed by the museum and her--and I wanted to see the rest of her exhibit, on the 6th floor, so I asked the guard how long the young woman had been sitting there, and he told me with weariness that she'd been there for about 20 minutes. I'd taken a few photos, which were verboten, and the guard saw me about to take yet another and stopped me, so I showed him that I could draw on the phone, and he carefully watched me for a while as I did a quick sketch of Abramovic, which I posted below, then headed upstairs.  It was definitely worth it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Poem: Tristan Tzara

One of the things I would hear people say when I was growing up was, "There's not enough time to breathe." I sometimes feel that way, especially during these crowded and crazy academic quarters. I do breathe, and teach, and read, and any number of other things, but sometimes I do feel like I have only a few seconds' head start.

Today in my Conceptual Art/Writing class, we looked at the works of Marcel Duchamp and Tristan Tzara (at right, LilithGallery).  We'd already talked about Duchamp's infamous "Fountain" of 1917, and related it to the theoretical texts we'd read, while also placing it within a history of art and schools and styles (that included the work of Michelangelo, Rembrandt van Rijn, Hokusai, Monet, Yves Klein, Adam Pendleton, and others), and today we returned to it, and his other works ("Nude Descending a Staircase #2," "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors Even (The Large Glass)," "Three Stoppages," etc.) before placing him in relation to Dada, which he discusses both in "The Great Trouble with Art in This Century," "The Creative Act" and "'Regions which are not ruled by time and space...'" among other pieces, and Surrealism, which led, I think quite nicely, to Tristan Tzara (1896-1973), who issued a number of Dada manifestos, including the (in)famous one of 1918.

At any rate, Tzara also has a lovely little poem that doubles as a do-it-yourself Dada poem instruction kit, called "To Make a Dadaist Poem." So we read the 2nd Manifesto of 1918, and then the Dada poem, and then we began the process of making a Dada poem.  So here's Tzara's poem. I brought in scissors and copies of the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, which was full of interesting articles today (in just the Arts section alone there were pieces on Howard Dodson's retirement from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; fiction Pulitzer winner Paul Harding's trajectory from multiple rejectee to prize awardee; a piece on Timothy McVeigh's taped prison tapes; making art at the speed of the Net by pairing techies and, well, artists; junior dance companies at the 1,2,3 Festival; and much more), students snipped and will now go create poems.

You can try it too. Here's Tzara's poem. I'll append my Dadaist poem later tonight.


Take a newspaper.
Take some scissors.
Choose from this paper an article of the length you want to make your poem.
Cut out the article.
Next carefully cut out each of the words that makes up this article and put them all in a bag.
Shake gently.
Next take out each cutting one after the other.
Copy conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag.
The poem will resemble you.
And there you are—an infinitely original author of charming sensibility, even though unappreciated by the vulgar herd.

Copyright © Tristan Tzara, 1920. No rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Poem: Frank Bidart

This week the university is holding its annual Writers' Festival, which this year commemorates the 30th anniversary of the undergraduate writing major program. As part of the festival, three major figures in their respective fields--poet Frank Bidart, fiction writer George Saunders, and creative nonfiction writer Jo Ann Beard--are in residence, holding master classes, conferences with senior undergraduate writers, and giving readings. The weeklong celebration will conclude with a reading by program alumni, including highly regarded writers Dan Chaon, Joshua Weiner, and Cristina Henríquez.

This morning Bidart (1939-) led a master class in which he read his famous poem "Ellen West," from The Book of the Body (1980), and spoke about his process of coming to understand how to write a longer work in verse. My first introduction to Bidart was during my college years when I read "The War of Vaslav Nijinsky" in The Paris Review, sparked in part by curiousness and by the general trend, among some of my friends, of seeking out what the various journals were publishing, as I too was on the board of one of the college literary journals, and I was struck dumb. I had never seen a poem like this. It seemed so new, so strange, with its alternating voices, one of which was clearly Nijinsky's, another his wife's, another impersonal diary entries concerning his hospitalization and commitment, its prose sections, its intensity of feeling, signified by the capitalizations and punctuation, its abruptions--; it looked and read like little else I'd seen at the time. On the basis of this poem alone I became an enthusiast. Some years later I found a copy of his second book, The Book of the Body (FSG, 1977), at the Avenue Victor Hugo bookstore, and what I had suspected, that this was a poet of great significance. Bidart has gone on to publish a handful more of his slender volumes, including In the Western Night: Collected Poems, 1965-1990 (1990), which gathered  the volumes up to that point, as well as newer work, Desire (1997), Star Dust (2005), and Watching the Spring Festival (2008). One of Robert Lowell's former students, Bidart co-edited with David Gewanter The Collected Poems of Robert Lowell (Faber, London, 2002).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Congrats to Rae Armantrout + Poem: Rae Armantrout

A busy, busy week so far, and it's only Monday, so let me take time, even briefly, to congratulate poet Rae Armantrout, a longtime and important figure among several innovative writing communities in the US, for winning this year's Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, for her newest book, Versed (Wesleyan University Press), which was also a finalist for the 2009 National Book Award. (She was in Chicago a month ago, and I did get to meet her and secure her autographs; I hope she's back through town soon.)

In several of the Pulitzer categories, this was a banner year for small presses; the other poetry nominees were Tryst by Angie Estes, published by Oberlin College Press, and Inseminating the Elephant, by Lucia Perillo, published by Copper Canyon Press. The fiction category winner, Tinkers, by Paul Harding, was published by Bellevue Literary Press, another small press, and the other nominees included Lydia Millet's Love in Infant Monkeys, published by Soft Skull Press, and Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Voices, a highly touted debut published by the venerable mid-sized publisher and distributor W. W. Norton.

Other Arts & Letters winners included (Drama) the musical Next to Normal, music by Tom Kitt, book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey; (History) Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (The Penguin Press); (Biography) The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles (Alfred A. Knopf); (General Nonfiction) The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy by David E. Hoffman (Doubleday); and (Music) Violin Concerto by Jennifer Higdon (Lawdon Press).  Also, the late Hank Williams Sr. was honored for "his craftsmanship as a songwriter who expressed universal feelings with poignant simplicity and played a pivotal role in transforming country music into a major musical and cultural force in American life." ??? Uh, okay.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

RIP + Poem: Carolyn Rodgers

This weekend, a friend at AWP passed on to me the sad news that Carolyn M. Rodgers  had passed away. She was either 65 or 69*. A few years ago, in the fall of 2007, I wrote about a mini-symposium that my colleague Ed Roberson had hosted at the university focusing on the Chicago branch of the Black Arts Movement. One of the revelations for me and others at that event was Rodgers, whom Ed described as one the BAM's "metaphysical" poets. Rogers had studied with Pulitzer Prize-winner Gwendolyn Brooks, and had helped to found the Third World Press, before starting her own press, Eden Press, some years later.  A graduate of Roosevelt University and the University of Chicago, she had taught at a number of schools in the area, including Malcolm X and Harold Washington Colleges, and Columbia College Chicago. Though less well known than many of her peers, she was an accomplished poet, and published 9 books, including Paper Soul, Songs of a Black Bird and how I got ovah.  At John Murillo's book party, poet Randall Horton told me he was working with Rodgers on putting out a new chapbook of her work, and spoke of how excited she was that and other, future projects.

According to the Huffington Post, there will be a memorial celebration for her on May 4 (6 p.m. , at the eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave., Chicago), during which poets will read her work, and I hope to attend it.

Tell CNN, No Propaganda + AWP Doings + Poem: Yusef Komunyakaa

I'm at the AWP Conference in Denver, and have been listening, learning, reading, thinking, writing, meeting, greeting, signing, notetaking, photographing, reconnecting, remembering, laughing, buying (too many books), acclimating, eating, sleeping, draggling, and walking--lots of walking, through, as I count it, five distinct neighborhoods of the Mile High City. I have several entry stubs I plan to post soon, but let me note before I do that or complete this entry that, to shift gaits (as opposed to gears--recall, I've been walking):

Once again, CNN is considering participating in a scare campaign to gut Social Security. They are planning to run IOUSA, a testeric deficit-fright documentary funded by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Recall also that when George W. Bush was president, Vice President Dick Cheney famously stated that "deficits don't matter." They never do when Republicans are running the country, into the abyss. Now that we once again have a Democrat in the White House and Democratic control of Congress, the deficit frenzy is approach and surpassing the same pitch as it did in 1992, when Bill Clinton was in office. (Yes, it happened then.) Clinton left the country with a surplus, which Bush-Cheney promptly burned through like kindling, before amassing a $1 trillion+ deficit to underwrite unfunded tax cuts, his wars, and so much else. Unfortunately, Obama seems both prone to listening to the Washington echo chamber and to splitting the difference at every step, meaning that he appears to have bought into this frenzy. CNN, trying its best to mimic Fox News (and shedding viewers in the process), is also striving to do its part. But let's join the Campaign for America's Future and tell CNN, nope, you aired IOUSA once; we don't need this propaganda disseminated anymore. We have more than enough pressing problems, and while the deficit isn't the least of them, it's also not the most important either.

Since Obama and the Democrats will not make the basic argument--intuitive though it is, and economically sound--that the more people who're employed the more quickly the deficit will drop, because employed people PAY TAXES--the rest of us will have to make to everyone who is unaware of this basic fact. There is no need to gut or slash Social Security, or privatize it using casino financial system typified by Wall Street and much of the global economy. Medicare will undergo necessary restructuring as a result of the recent health insurance reform bill. So, please, tell CNN, no thank you. Please also urge others you know to do the same as well.  We all owe the USA, but the deficit scare project isn't the answer or one we want them to contribute to.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Unemployment Benefits Cut + Baseball's Back + Poems: Shin Yu Pai

I hate to start on a down note, but today 400,000 Americans will lose their unemployment insurance, because members of the Senate GOP--first Kentucky's former baseball player Jim Bunning (see below), and now Oklahoma's gift to the country, Tom Coburn, MD, who reportedly committed Medicaid fraud and also reportedly performed a tubal ligation on a woman against her will--see fit to play games with their lives. Their hobbyhorse, never once raised during the votes for the unfunded Bush tax cuts, which destroyed the surplus President Bill Clinton left and added over $1 trillion to the deficit, or the rush to send troops to raze and occupy Iraq, or blow money on Medicare Advantage, a multibillion-dollar boondoggle, is that any spending must be "paid for."

As anyone who has ever been unemployed and relies on unemployment insurance knows, this little bit of money can be the only thing keeping a roof over your head, food in your stomach, and your lights on. But to Tom Coburn, Jim Bunning, and others in the GOP, the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people, including their children and elderly relatives, who'll also suffer, doesn't matter.

Won't you join me and urge others in calling Tom Coburn to let him know that he is playing games with people's lives, and you don't like it?

Washington: Main: 202-224-5754
Tulsa: 918-581-7651
Oklahoma City: 405-231-4941

And if you have a Democratic Senator or two, why not call them and tell them to stop whining and take drastic action to stop the suffering of fellow Americans. They can give tax cuts to the richest people at the drop of a hat, but can only cry and rend their garments and complain about the the terrible GOP when people really need help--and the money that's due them. And you can always call GOP Senators, if they represent you, to urge them to put pressure on Coburn to stop his dangerous, cruel games.


Bunning's mention, acrid though it is, provokes another, more pleasant thought: baseball's back. Yes, the national and now an international pastime began last night with the Boston Red Sox--of all teams--defeating the defending World Series Champion New York Yankees 9-7.  Ugh!  I won't read the Red Sox victory as a (bad) omen, especially for the Yankees, who stayed right in the thick of the game, but rather as the stats suggest, as a breakdown by middle-reliever and former starter Chan Ho Park. 161 more games to go, guys, it can only get better.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Poem: Steve Halle

I'd never met Steve Halle nor had I encountered his work before we read together tonight, at the invitation of Larry Sawyer, at Myopic Books in Chicago.  Steve is 30 years old, lives and is a doctoral student in southern Illinois, and is very active as a poet (he has several books and chapbooks), blogger (I count 4 blogs he runs or is part of), and all-around person of mind and letters. One of his blogs, Fluid/Exchange, has lots of interesting material on it, including critiques of ongoing online discussions in the blogosphere, links to his reviews and poems in print and audio form, readings of various essays and ideas, and much more.  The poems he read tonight were often funny, wrestled successfully with their influences, offered rich sonorities and polysemous pleasures, and, at the start, were decidedly scatalogical, though he ended with a poem that, in addition to being positively Platonic in its engagement with the body and its fluids also, I mentioned to him afterwards, struck me as embodying many of the ideas currently animating the conversations in the now-trendy cognitive neuroscience and studies/evolutionary biology wings of English and American literary studies. It was one of those seemingly simple, but actually quite complex productions that poets--artists--can pull off that anticipate, by years, decades, centuries, what scholars will finally come up with. Such is art, and such was Steve Halle. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work soon.

Steve Halle reading, Myopic Books, Chicago

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Poem + Photos: John Murillo (Book Launch)

Earlier tonight I headed over to Logan Square to Elastic Arts, where Tres Colony (Krista Franklin, Sandra Ivelisse Antongiorgi and Shirley Alfaro) hosted a book party for poet John Murillo, whose new book, Up Jump the Boogie has just been published by Cypher Books (New York). The collection's cover features one of Krista's collages, and the great Martín Espada pens a foreword that gives real insight into what John's poetry is up to., As the title suggests, hiphop flows through these poems like electricity, though soul and soul's spirit is also here, la alma de vida, and life here takes on tremendous textures in these lyrics, these lyric voices. As Martín says in his intro, John is "young and urban," "African American and Chicano," a "wordsmith and a song-maker": he's a true musician, operating on multiple levels, mixing and breaking, taking his crossfader sensibility to the very edge. These are powerful poems, whether the sequence for Etheridge Knight, or the crown of sonnets about growing up and breakdancing, or the poem, which made me go "whoa," in which John rolls up, for real, like a gangster. Tres Colony brought together a hot roster of poets and performers, including Toni Asante Lightfoot, Kevin Koval, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Avery R. Young, Randall Horton, and Roger Bonair-Agard, who not only offered their words but set things off live, for John to bring to a fitting conclusion with his very live and alive poems. Congratulations, John, and what follows below are some photos and one of John's poems.
Poet John Murillo
John Murillo reading

John Murillo reading one of his poems, "Hustle"

Friday, April 02, 2010

Poem: Gary Soto

Back when I was teaching schoolchildren about poetry, one of the poets I would dip into was Gary Soto (1952-), a poet they instictively grasped and could both follow and model their own work after.  I started reading Soto intensively then, and really grew to appreciate his work. I also learned that some 20 years before, during the mid-to-late 1970s, Fresno-native Soto had become one of the best known and most popular Latino poets, in no small part because of his powerful skills as a scene-setter, his story-telling skills, his simple but never simplistic and effective use of imagery, his deft and subtle control of meter and rhythm, and the deep feeling that infuses his best work. I hadn't looked at his work in many years, but when I knew my poetry month postings would be rolling around, I made a note to post a Soto poem. So here you go, "A Red Palm," which includes all of the elements I mention above, and more. Enjoy!

A Red Palm

You're in this dream of cotton plants.
You raise a hoe, swing, and the first weeds
Fall with a sigh. You take another step,
Chop, and the sigh comes again,
Until you yourself are breathing that way
With each step, a sigh that will follow you into town.

That's hours later. The sun is a red blister
Coming up in your palm. Your back is strong,
Young, not yet the broken chair
In an abandoned school of dry spiders.
Dust settles on your forehead, dirt
Smiles under each fingernail.
You chop, step, and by the end of the first row,
You can buy one splendid fish for wife
And three sons. Another row, another fish,
Until you have enough and move on to milk,
Bread, meat. Ten hours and the cupboards creak.
You can rest in the back yard under a tree.
Your hands twitch on your lap,
Not unlike the fish on a pier or the bottom
Of a boat. You drink iced tea. The minutes jerk
Like flies.

It's dusk, now night,
And the lights in your home are on.
That costs money, yellow light
In the kitchen. That's thirty steps,
You say to your hands,
Now shaped into binoculars.
You could raise them to your eyes:
You were a fool in school, now look at you.
You're a giant among cotton plants.
Now you see your oldest boy, also running.
Papa, he says, it's time to come in.

You pull him into your lap
And ask, What's forty times nine?
He knows as well as you, and you smile.
The wind makes peace with the trees,
The stars strike themselves in the dark.
You get up and walk with the sigh of cotton plants.
You go to sleep with a red sun on your palm,
The sore light you see when you first stir in bed.

"A Red Palm," from New and Selected Poems by Gary Soto. Copyright © 1995 by Gary Soto. Used by permission of Chronicle Books.

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)