Nothing But Color

By Ai 1947–2010 Ai

for Yukio Mishima

I didn’t write Etsuko,   
I sliced her open.
She was carmine inside   
like a sea bass
and empty.
No viscera, nothing but color.
I love you like that, boy.
I pull the kimono down around your shoulders
and kiss you.
Then you let it fall open.   
Each time, I cut you a little
and when you leave, I take the piece,
broil it, dip it in ginger sauce   
and eat it. It burns my mouth so.
You laugh, holding me belly-down
with your body.
So much hurting to get to this moment,
when I’m beneath you,   
wanting it to go on and to end.

At midnight, you say see you tonight
and I answer there won’t be any tonight,
but you just smile, swing your sweater
over your head and tie the sleeves around your neck.   
I hear you whistling long after you disappear   
down the subway steps,
as I walk back home, my whole body tingling.
I undress
and put the bronze sword on my desk   
beside the crumpled sheet of rice paper.   
I smooth it open
and read its single sentence:
I meant to do it.
No. It should be common and feminine   
like I can’t go on sharing him,
or something to imply that.
Or the truth:
that I saw in myself
the five signs of the decay of the angel
and you were holding on, watching and free,   
that I decided to go out
with the pungent odor
of this cold and consuming passion in my nose: death.   
Now, I’ve said it. That vulgar word
that drags us down to the worms, sightless, predestined.   
Goddamn you, boy.
Nothing I said mattered to you;
that bullshit about Etsuko or about killing myself.   
I tear the note, then burn it.
The alarm clock goes off. 5:45 A.M.
I take the sword and walk into the garden.   
I look up. The sun, the moon,
two round teeth rock together
and the light of one chews up the other.   
I stab myself in the belly,
wait, then stab myself again. Again.   
It’s snowing. I’ll turn to ice,
but I’ll burn anyone who touches me.   
I start pulling my guts out,
those red silk cords,   
spiraling skyward,
and I’m climbing them   
past the moon and the sun,   
past darkness
into white.
I mean to live.

Ai, “Nothing But Color” from Vice: New and Selected Poems. Copyright © 1999 by Ai. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.www.nortonpoets.com.

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, 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Death, Living

Poetic Terms Free Verse, Dramatic Monologue

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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