By Ai 1947–2010 Ai

for Robert Lowell

We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.   
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.   
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor   
and burns a hole through it.
Don’t tell me, I say. I don't want to hear.   
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of silk dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,   
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,   
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,   
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,   
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreaths of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that’s where I’m floating,   
and that’s what it’s like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.   
Could anyone alive survive it?

Ai, “Conversation” from Vice: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Ai. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.,

Source: Vice: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1999)

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Poet Ai 1947–2010

Subjects Death, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse



Ai is a poet noted for her uncompromising poetic vision and bleak dramatic monologues which give voice to marginalized, often poor and abused speakers. Though born Florence Anthony, she legally changed her name to Ai which means “love” in Japanese. She has said that her given name reflects a “scandalous affair my mother had with a Japanese man she met at a streetcar stop” and has no wish to be identified “for all eternity” with . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Death, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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