Ai – On Being 1/2 Japanese, 1/8 Choctaw, 1/4 Black, and 1/16 Irish

I feel sad and that I never heard of Ai until I read about her death in the New York Times. Like so many of our heroes – Fannie Lou Hammer, Lorraine Hansberry, Audrey Lorde, June Jordan, Minnie Ripperton, Ruby Dee to name just a few, Ai died as a result of breast cancer meaning the cancer had spread from her breast to other parts of her body. Why are women, so many women still dying as a result of breast cancer? As someone who survived this silent killer which gives you no pain until you feel the pain and then it is too late, I can’t say much at this time except I feel a great deal of sadness for all breast cancer deaths. This is how a fellow poet described her work..

“What separates poets from mere versifiers is a quality of feeling based in experience. This is why the poems of Ai, for example, make the poems of most of her contemporaries seem like kid stuff.”

Converation
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 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?

“A great voice, person, poem. Like Fatima Meer, dynamite that does not extinguish with the explosion” – thanks Dan for letting me know…. .

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