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About this Poem 

"The wire jacket was a Boxer Rebellion-era Chinese torture device that was used to administer the infamous 'death by a thousand cuts.' I encountered its description in Sax Rohmer's The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu, which I was reading as part of a project on Western representations of Asian culture. More abstractly, for me the wire jacket represented the consequences of living for too long under a system of constraint—how adaptation can involve an irrevocable, though self-imposed, loss of freedom."
—Monica Youn

Self-Portrait in a Wire Jacket

To section off
is to intensify,

to deaden.
Some surfaces

cannot be salvaged.
Leave them

to lose function,
to persist only

as armature,
holding in place

those radiant
squares

of sensation—
the body a dichotomy

of flesh and
blood. Wait here

in the trellised
garden you

are becoming.
Soon you’ll know

that the strictures
have themselves

become superfluous,
but at that point

you’ll also know
that ungridded

you could no longer survive.

Copyright © 2013 by Monica Youn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 8, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Monica Youn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 8, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Monica Youn

Monica Youn

Monica Youn is the author of Blackacre (Graywolf Press, 2016). She teaches at Princeton University and lives in New York City.

by this poet

poem

What is your face?
          A house, of sorts.

What is your foot?
          A chipped stone blade.

What did you dream?
          A rain-washed road.

What did it mean?
          It meant nothing.

What have you learned?

poem

the trees all planted in the same month after the same fire

            each thick around
            as a man’s wrist

meticulously spaced grids cutting the sunshine

            into panels into planks
            and crossbeams of light

an incandescent architecture that is the

poem

one day they showed me a dark moon ringed

with a bright nimbus on a swirling gray screen

they called it my last chance for neverending life

but the next day it was gone it had