Ai, Poet Extraordinaire, Dies


Ai, Poet Extraordinaire, Dies

The poet Ai, whose work was astoundingly varied and consistently forceful, passed away last week from pneumonia. She was 62.

Ai was born Florence Johnson but changed her name to the Japanese word for love. She was half-Japanese and raised by her mother, who was black, Choctaw and Irish. Ai's poems, in turn, are voiced by a range of speakers and reflect a host of human experience (from bored wives to coma patients to Trotsky).

Read her New York Times obit here.

Here's a short poem I like. Check out the one about Trotsky, called "Killing Floor" here.


for Robert Lowell

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 wreaths 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?