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Li Shangyin Enters Manhattan, by John Yau

 

1.
I am a parakeet in a cave, malaise’s candle flame,
An open letter to myself who is you: poets always
Need to be foreign, even in their own country
I was walking into a candy store when I bumped into
Another dance of ink I will never join in fragrant ceremony
Drips of soot filling clouds of yesterday’s imagination
Can you sing “of” in a downloaded song and not sound
Like you are a native speaker lost in an alley
With two entrances, one of which is your mouth
I comb streets of sand and pollen, looking for flowers
Whose petals possess a remedy for dreams
Filled with poorly transcribed instructions guaranteed
To make every devourer wish life could be written in reverse
Do you know whose glossolalia you will be speaking in today

 

2.
The greatest poet in Chinese history
Is a mulberry tree on which poems
Are sprinkled in ash, ink, or snow
Walking to corner movie palace
Talking to ladybugs, humming rhymes
To radio operators, whistling standards
For plankton mechanics under pine sap sky
I stop and watch a clowder of polluted cats
Swimming upstream, in search of better furniture
I squat in a cold bath and imagine I am a poet
A talking tree writing sonnets for humankind
An atomic clock sitting on a rock in paradise
Announcing, this is the blue mirror in which
You will see yourself spinning all your fault lines

 

3.
Why do you say this scroll of painted mulberry bark
Is a trembling lake deaf to ink splashes and falling sun
Have you ever talked to coroners of silkworms
Children who only watch movies in rearview mirrors
Gardeners who tend to weeds growing through gravestones,
Waiters who refuse to serve real or substitute meat
What side of your face aches from obedience issues
What milestone did you reach when your heart
Turned to ash, and you wrote: “even the fog is blight”
Are poets still underpaid to operate levers of
A dead language machine, kill doves when
They think the festooned little plumps are laughing
More silver lacerations refilling night’s placard bowl
Memory’s janitors sweeping away sights of wounds and ruins

 

4.
I like extended confinement, days of walking around
In clown polka dots and clean underwear, as thinking
Arrives in nibbled sheathes, occult graphite, amber
Globules of ancient sweat, swiped blocks of innuendo
I stood on one leg, like a drain pipe, cranking candor
Into steam, always out of kilter in hubbub and morass
But not here, in my amulet chamber, where heaven
Is no longer a glass ceiling to throw yellow lumps against
Watch beige moon’s limping stone in gravel sky
Escape to goblin screen whistling with digital sparks
Tomes piled in parking lot, where your customized chassis
Fled rising palaver, what say you now slant-eyed cow
Or goads to that effect still played out on media grab
Serving mixed grill’s nightly tapestry of feral apologies

 

5.
More huts of blather retreat into latest urban sob story
Night arrives full of carbon stains in leaking tank
What winged shadow brushed against your diesel chariot
What upright little god of the hearth did you swear at today
Who requested extra sets of hands to squeeze birds
Squawking right out of life, their carbonated spit splintering the air,
Midnight hearse hauling their little crystal coffins back to
Seaweed banks, where you and your throttle of soulful bleeders
Have to sing for your package, no magnetic stripes please
That is the repeat glutton pressing the unheated lips of
Your baffled pocket mouth, your cold distress
Burn down legions of last overcoats, their headless shoes
There is nothing thicker than sickness dripping against
The blackened bulkhead of this gutted rickshaw

 

6.
I keep my remaining glands in a jar by the nightstand
I live in a condo villa and drink tall glasses of cold plum juice
Give me edible sermons and I will recycle your sentiments
Display another filament binge as I grind the heart loose
Pick slips of masticated plastic from plates of steaming viscera
These are slippery hills we are hooked forward to
Lumps and bones spilling lard of our common stock market
Lined with barnacles and crackling bunkum, courtesy of old world ways,
My name is Captain Manatee, Oboe Steam House, Elgin Relic,
I sing and fly in the opera known as the Lost United Fates
White picketed gates or heads on plates, weigh down upon
Stack of whitened swans, headline pile-up with more bash-ins
Suspects speak of terminal clutter, but comic relief is when
You don’t pee in your pants by a flooded highway

 

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John Yau has published many books of poetry, fiction, and criticism. His latest publications include Genghis Chan on Drums, 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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