John Yau

From “Li Shangyin Enters Manhattan”

10. i.m. Martin Wong (1946-1999)

Sprayed subway sign: Living is wheezing
a horse riding through swollen veins
I press on and leave gold hand prints
In sky’s blue pocket, write poems
on brick piles, I am not like the others
who drift from horny to scorn in a blink
Another slammed drunk upended
in romance’s spreading muddle
The life of a Chinese cowboy
isn’t all chopped duck and pinto schemes,
I have seen many boys, dead and alive
crying a thousand deaths, stripped blue in the rain
but I still love the smoky smell of a fireman’s rubber coat
crispy french fries lathered in mayonnaise

After I Turned 71

For Laura Mullen

I did not expect to see myself standing in the mirror

I look like someone I would never want to meet

I wonder if I have made a mistake without knowing it

I am sure the word ‘disaster’ does not tell the whole story

I know there is room for improvement but decide to skip over that part

I realize this passport is the last one that will be issued to me

I begin to think the joke is not only on me

I can walk in any direction and still end up in the wrong place

I stop trying to make a list of words I will never use again

I decide making sense is no longer an acceptable form of lying

I think it is prudent to let others do the counting

I often tell strangers that I start vomiting when the seasons begin changing

I agree that ‘reincarnation’ is a scam perpetuated by life insurance companies

I liked it when the cab driver called me ‘young man’ and gave him a smaller tip

What My Mother Told Me

Shanghai is an ancient seaport that no longer exists in American history books

Shanghai is found only on maps where dragons frolic in a frothy sea

Shanghai is known to hide paintings of cats licking their remaining patches of fur

Shanghai is rimmed by nuclear plants mounted on neatly stacked plates

Shanghai harbors fleets of atomic submarines rusting beneath a green tropical sun

Shanghai is a post card of iridescent mermaids lounging on artificial rocks

Shanghai is dirt piling up and obliterating whatever precedes it

Shanghai is an empty gray cargo plane leaving at dawn

Shanghai is a child’s mouth filling once more with black and green snow

John Yau is a vital voice in extending the possibilities of linguisitic intercourse.Award-winning poet, critic, curator, professor, and publisher of Back Square Editions, he is author of over 50 books including Radiant Silhouette, IngGrish, and The United States of Jasper Johns. He received a BA after studying at Bard with Robert Kelly and an MFA in poetry from Brooklyn College where he associated with John Ashbery. He teaches art history and criticism at Rutgers University. Robert Creeley called Yau a genius.