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 wreathes 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 has died. Not only one of my very favorite writers, but someone I knew back in the day, back when I was a young poet at the very start of my career and this burning young woman had a voice with the courage to say exactly what she wanted to say.
I was 20, fresh out of college, living in a loft in NYC; she was older, living in maybe New Mexico and coming to NYC to do the readings we’d arranged for her at The Academy of American Poets, where I worked. Was she more than 7 years older than me? She was a world away, a poet who was in touch with her voice in a way I had briefly, then lost.
We talked, we kept in touch a little, and then it was only her poems, poems I read and loved year after year, poems that kept me connected to so many truths I buried in my own life, voices I was afraid to hear except through other writers, like her.
Ai, I am so sad you have died.