Cuba, 1962

By Ai 1947–2010 Ai
When the rooster jumps up on the windowsill   
and spreads his red-gold wings,
I wake, thinking it is the sun
and call Juanita, hearing her answer,
but only in my mind.
I know she is already outside,
breaking the cane off at ground level,
using only her big hands.
I get the machete and walk among the cane,   
until I see her, lying face-down in the dirt.

Juanita, dead in the morning like this.   
I raise the machete—
what I take from the earth, I give back—
and cut off her feet.
I lift the body and carry it to the wagon,   
where I load the cane to sell in the village.   
Whoever tastes my woman in his candy, his cake,   
tastes something sweeter than this sugar cane;   
it is grief.
If you eat too much of it, you want more,   
you can never get enough.

Ai, “Cuba, 1962” from Vice: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Ai. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., www.nortonpoets.com.

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

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Poet Ai 1947–2010

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Dramatic Monologue

   Ai

Biography

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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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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