poem index

About this poet

Ai, who described herself as half Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche, was born in Albany, Texas, on October 21, 1947. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona.

She legally changed her name to "Ai," which means "love" in Japanese. Ai received a BA in Japanese from the University of Arizona and an MFA from the University of California at Irvine.

She is the author of Dread (W. W. Norton, 2003); Vice: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 1999), which won the National Book Award for Poetry; Greed (W. W. Norton, 1993); Fate (W. W. Norton, 1991); Sin (W. W. Norton, 1986), which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; Killing Floor (Houghton, 1979), which was the 1978 Lamont Poetry Award of the Academy of American Poets; and Cruelty (Houghton, 1973).

She also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bunting Fellowship Program at Radcliffe College. She taught at Oklahoma State University and lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Ai died on March 20, 2010.

Selected Bibliography


No Surrender (W. W. Norton, 2010)
Dread (W. W. Norton, 2003)
Vice: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 1999)
Greed (W. W. Norton, 1993)
Fate (W. W. Norton, 1991)
Sin (W. W. Norton, 1986)
Killing Floor (Houghton, 1979)
Cruelty (Houghton, 1973)

Grandfather Says

Ai, 1947 - 2010
"Sit in my hand."
I'm ten.
I can't see him,
but I hear him breathing
in the dark.
It's after dinner playtime.
We're outside,
hidden by trees and shrubbery.
He calls it hide-and-seek,
but only my little sister seeks us
as we hide
and she can't find us,
as grandfather picks me up
and rubs his hands between my legs.
I only feel a vague stirring
at the edge of my consciousness.
I don't know what it is, 
but I like it.
It gives me pleasure
that I can't identify.
It's not like eating candy,
but it's just as bad,
because I had to lie to grandmother
when she asked,
"What do you do out there?"
"Where?" I answered.
Then I said, "Oh, play hide-and-seek."
She looked hard at me,
then she said, "That was the last time.
I'm stopping that game."
So it ended and I forgot.
Ten years passed, thirtyfive,
when I began to reconstruct the past.
When I asked myself
why I was attracted to men who disgusted me
I traveled back through time
to the dark and heavy breathing part of my life
I thought was gone,
but it had only sunk from view
into the quicksand of my mind.
It was pulling me down
and there I found grandfather waiting,
his hand outstretched to lift me up,
naked and wet
where he rubbed me.
"I'll do anything for you," he whispered,
"but let you go."
And I cried, "Yes," then "No."
"I don't understand how you can do this to me.
I'm only ten years old,"
and he said, "That's old enough to know."

From Dread by Ai. Copyright © 2003 by Ai. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.



Ai, who described herself as half Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne

by this poet

Dear Saint Patrick, this is Peggy,
Or maybe it's Pegeen to you,
Well, I'm really Stella Mae.
Peggy's my nickname,
But anyway, will you please tell me
What to do about the rattlesnake
That's in my room?
I know it's there,
But I can't find it anywhere I search.
I've ransacked the closet more than once,