Poems by Ai

Cuba, 1962

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.

The Anniversary

You raise the ax,
the block of wood screams in half,
while I lift the sack of flour
and carry it into the house.
I'm not afraid of the blade
you've just pointed at my head.
If I were dead, you could take the boy,
hunt, kiss gnats, instead of my moist lips.
Take it easy, squabs are roasting,
corn, still in husks, crackles,
as the boy dances around the table:
old guest at a wedding party for two sad-faced clowns,
who together, never won a round of anything but hard times.
Come in, sheets are clean,
fall down on me for one more year
and we can blast another hole in ourselves without a sound.

The Country Midwife:  A Day

I bend over the woman.
This is the third time between abortions.
I dip a towel into a bucket of hot water
and catch the first bit of blood,
as the blue-pink dome of a head breaks through.
A scraggy, red child comes out of her into my hands
like warehouse ice sliding down a chute.

It's done, the stink of birth, Old Grizzly
rears up on his hind legs in front of me
and I want to go outside,
but the air smells the same there too.
The woman's left eye twitches
and beneath her, a stain as orange as sunrise
spreads over the sheet.
I lift my short, blunt fingers to my face
and I let her bleed, Lord, I let her bleed.

The Hitchhiker

The Arizona wind dries out my nostrils
and the heat of the sidewalk burns my shoes,
as a woman drives up slowly.
I get in, grinning at a face I do not like,
but I slide my arm across the top of the seat
and rest it lightly against her shoulder.
We turn off into the desert,
then I reach inside my pocket and touch the switchblade.

We stop, and as she moves closer to me, my hands ache,
but somehow, I get the blade into her chest.
I think a song:  "Everybody needs somebody,
everybody needs somebody to love,"
as the black numerals 35 roll out of her right eye
inside one small tear.
Laughing, I snap my fingers.  Rape, murder, I got you
in the sight of my gun.

I move off toward the street.
My feet press down in it,
familiar with the hot, soft asphalt
that caresses them.
The sun slips down into its cradle behind the mountains
and it is hot, hotter than ever
and I like it.

The Root Eater

The war has begun
and I see the Root Eater bending,
shifting his hands under the soil
in search of the arthritic knuckles of trees.
I see dazed flower stems
pushing themselves back into the ground.
I see turnips spinning endlessly
on the blunt, bitten-off tips of their noses.
I see the Root Eater going home on his knees,
full of the ripe foundations of things,
longing to send his seed up through his feet
and out into the morning

but the stumps of trees heave themselves forward
for the last march
and the Root Eater waits,
knowing he will be shoved, rootless,
under the brown, scaly torso of the rock.

Everything:  Eloy, Arizona, 1956

Tin shack, where my baby sleeps on his back
the way the hound taught him;
highway, black zebra, with one white stripe;
nickel in my pocket for chewing gum;
you think you're all I've got.
But when the 2 ton rolls to a stop
and the driver gets out,
I sit down in the shade and wave each finger,
saving my whole hand till the last.

He's keys, tires, a fire lit in his belly
in the diner up the road.
I'm red toenails, tight blue halter, black slip.
He's mine tonight.  I don't know him.
He can only hurt me a piece at a time.

After a Long Time

the halves of the egg, impotence,
slide into each other on waxed feet
and the wait is over.
The seam between my legs
basted with hair tears apart,
as your blue, flannel spoon slips inside,
digs out the pieces of cracked shell
and lays them on my thighs,
like old china plates made too thin
for holding anything but love.