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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

Poetry

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)

She Didn't Even Wave

For Marilyn Monroe

I buried Mama in her wedding dress
and put gloves on her hands,
but I couldn't do much about her face,
blue-black and swollen,
so I covered it with a silk scarf.
I hike my dress up to my thighs
and rub them,
watching you tip the mortuary fan back and forth.
Hey. Come on over. Cover me all up
like I was never here. Just never.
Come on. I don't know why I talk like that.
It was a real nice funeral. Mama's.
I touch the rhinestone heart pinned to my blouse.
Honey, let's look at it again.
See. It's bright like the lightning that struck her.

I walk outside
and face the empty house.
You put your arms around me. Don't.
Let me wave goodbye.
Mama never got a chance to do it.
She was walking toward the barn
when it struck her. I didn't move;
I just stood at the screen door.
Her whole body was light.
I'd never seen anything so beautiful.

I remember how she cried in the kitchen
a few minutes before.
She said, God. Married.
I don't believe it, Jean, I won't.
He takes and takes and you just give.

At the door, she held out her arms
and I ran to her.
She squeezed me so tight:
I was all short of breath.
And she said, don't do it.
In ten years, your heart will be eaten out
and you'll forgive him, or some other man, even that
and it will kill you.

Then she walked outside.
And I kept saying, I've got to, Mama,
hug me again. Please don't go.

From The Collected Poems of Ai. Copyright © Copyright 2010 by Ai. Used with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.

From The Collected Poems of Ai. Copyright © Copyright 2010 by Ai. Used with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company Ltd.

Ai

Ai

Ai was the author of several books of poetry, including Vice: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 1999), which won the National Book Award for Poetry.

by this poet

poem

For Yasunari Kawabata

Chrysanthemum and nightshade:
I live on them,
though air is what I need.
I wish I could breathe like you,
asleep, or even awake,
just resting your head
on the pillow wrapped in black crepe
that I brought you from Sweden.
I hoped you’d

poem
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,
Because
poem
"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