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Four Poems, by John Yau

 

Catullus Sails to China (1)

Now that my sojourn is circling a drain
Should I slow this engine down and wash
Moon’s lacquered thermos and cold hair
What did I think I could possibly gain
When I sank into reams of grainy and gripe
What did I dream the stars would grant me
For wandering into every squall of petty grievance
All promises of sweet return posted in evening air
All melons and dates grown beside the Bosphorous
Sent here, wrapped in blue sky of Chinese paper
Catullus, you dented pumpkin, you must halt
This idiocy and calculate the loss you see as lost
A handful of little goodbyes might be necessary
Admit what everyone knows—you were an ungodly child

 

 

Catullus Sails to China (2)

When did you sink to amateur
In tide pools of love’s red wake
Waiting for her to love you in the dark
Listen, my yawning droopy snake,
There are no talismans to enhance
The rhythms of a drunken night
No wide vulture to lift you from the dead
You have become what you once laughed at—
A wet rag crammed under a pile of puppets
Shall I make a smile to fit your tired mouth
Whoever loves you will fail to change this
As good at math as you like to brag
Can you calculate the exact loss
Your arms are about to embrace

 

 

Catullus Sails to China (3)

Will we ever be more than gifts to the dead
Buckets of ash tossed into sea’s grinding claws
Last night, my friend invited the Toothless
Over for peacock platter and honeyed wine
What does Mister Old Glue do to inflame
The remains of his decrepit body like that
Get out of your clothes—we must commit
This misdemeanor as fast as possible
We are no tarrying brother and sister
Sorry, Old and Borrowed, but I have
To work with you on the best of days
Get out of your clothes—Let merciful gods
Bestow blessings on my little monicker
My poor dumb bird, now swollen and crying red

 

 

Catullus Sails to China (4)

Leisure is a boilermaker sitting opposite you
I no longer count those who drowned
In my riches, leaving their bones
To wash up on the terracotta floor
Listen, a broken bed can be given a new neck
No, no, no, this poem is for you
Before you dump me in the old people’s park
Just another bad deposit on view
Or must you say more insulting things about me
Is it something other than my flailing eyes
That shuffles my interest into your hair
The sounds stay buried in your curled mouth,
My luck, I never get to think of you as a beast
I love that we are not married and we are a nightmare

 

 

John Yau has published many books of poetry, fiction, and criticism. His latest publications include Bijoux in the Dark, Further Adventures in Monochrome, Catherine Murphy, and Richard Artschwager: Into the Desert. He has also written monographs on A. R. Penck, Jasper Johns, and Andy Warhol. In 1999, he started Black Square Editions, a small press devoted to poetry, fiction, translation, and criticism. He was the Arts Editor for the Brooklyn Rail before he began writing regularly for Hyperallergic. He is a Professor of Critical Studies at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.

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