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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)

Talking to His Reflection in a Shallow Pond

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 die,
your mouth open, lips dry and split,
and red like pomegranate seeds.
But now, I only want you to suffer.
I drop a stone in the pond
and it sinks through you.
Japan isn’t sliding into the Pacific
this cool April morning, you are.
Yasunari Kawabata, I’m talking to you;
just drop like that stone
through your own reflection.
You stretch your lean hands toward me
and I take them.
Water covers my face, my whole head,
as I inhale myself:
cold, very cold.

Suddenly, I pull back.
For a while, I watch you struggle,
then I start walking back to my studio.
But something is wrong.
There’s water everywhere
and you’re standing above me.
I stare up at you from the still, clear water.
You open your mouth and I open mine.
We both speak slowly.
Brother, you deserve to suffer,
You deserve the best:
this moment, death without end.

Reprinted from The Collected Poems of Ai by Ai. Copyright © 2010 by the Estate of Ai. Copyright © 2003, 1999, 1993, 1991, 1986, 1979, 1973, 1970 by Ai. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Reprinted from The Collected Poems of Ai by Ai. Copyright © 2010 by the Estate of Ai. Copyright © 2003, 1999, 1993, 1991, 1986, 1979, 1973, 1970 by Ai. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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 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

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

You sort the tin paintings
and lay your favorite in my lap.
Then you stroke my bare feet
as I lean against a tombstone.
It's time to cross the border
and cut your throat with two knives:
your wife, your son.
I won't try to stop you.
A cow with a mouth at both ends
chews