When I was in high school and
college I started seeing work in literary magazines by a woman with this exotic name who wrote what every
other poet seemed too afraid to write—disturbing poems, violent, sexy, unspeakably
moving, grief-stricken, harrowing, cutting, beautiful, and yet the verse seemed skillfully controlled and peaceable. For me, most other poets sat in the back seat
and Ai drove (which is ironic because she never in her life, from what I
understand, possessed a driver’s license).
I sort of mythologized her, and I knew I wanted to be her kind of poet—if
the world would let me be one—fearless. I
know it might sound extreme, but why waste time on flowers when you have
knives? As I learned more about Ai, I
read her many books, felt her influence growing in me. Years and years later, I ended up at
We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don't tell me, I say. I don't want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of silk dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that's where I'm floating,
and that's what it's like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?