poem index



1947-2010 , Albany , TX , United States
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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)

by this poet


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


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

"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