The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2023

All Issues
APRIL 2023 Issue


The Sweetness of Unheard Music

As a child, I was told that
if I sang for my supper

I would be fed what the others
at the table were eating

Big plates and large ladles
would be mine to use

I did not need to
wash my hands

Later, as an adult,
I was told that

because my voice
would stir up mayhem

bedlam was where
I would end up

I acted as if I believed
what I heard

from the authorities
who had never heard me sing

nor pretended to
my secret happiness

Meadow Gathering

These are nothing more
than dandelions of distraction
insinuated into the wind

Listen, malicious matadors
professors of droopy eyelids
unwieldy viewers possessed by final images

does anyone remember why
a martyr of little accomplishment
became the cornerstone of the poet’s conception of grief?

why people still roar
at the sound of
an idol’s name?

Or is there
some other reason
why we are here?

Come, stick your oar in the green and yellow
mud of today’s lies and disasters
Explain yourself, beginning at the bottom.

A Song I Heard Myself Singing

Come, rest your drowned head in my basket
I will bring it down to the tavern tonight
Wrapped in a blue and gold silk scarf

I will tend the tears you never cried
I will wave off the mites looking for
blood still bubbling in your veins

Come, rest your drowned head in my basket
I will shed the tears you never cried
But I won’t sing your praises

No, I won’t sing your praises
Nor will I pray for a better future
Come, rest your drowned head in my basket

Li Shangyin Enters Manhattan

I watch cities and towns billboarding their future
As if every dream of a golden past can catch up
And settle in, deal another round of further ado
On gravy boat parade stitched conglomeration
These globs are aimed at your heirloom bowl
Why be curious when furious is easier on your face
When did you learn your aspirations are onerous
Residue of swarming crowds, salted visitations,
Assaulted cannisters of human ash, brained aprons,
Lessons In lesions, amassed constellations
Cold swarms of thought left over from
Previous chronicles, having outlived sunlight’s
Latest crime, this is America stalling, do you
Still have room for an inflated penis to hitch a ride

Li Shangyin Enters Manhattan

Botched courts erase rows of empty bellybuttons
Was it you garbed in latest sweatshop imports
Blinking at dangled specimens of five-star gene selection
Loosening your prose to gauge upscale climbing in firearm rehab,
Bliss stalks its custom loafers in ever-widening
Rings of borrowed sentiment, real estate is the real state
No matter how you fluff its entrails,
Don’t hurry if your name is mud and you caught a cold
In the late afternoon, as I prefer sitting inside stone cottage
Or basking beside a pond when sun slips into a fire truck
To finish masturbating, that’s when I unscrew my skull
Place it on table, turn off my beady yellow eyes, fall
Into myself, do you ever feel that your life is not worth
Stealing back, not the slightest reflection left behind

Li Shangyin Enters Manhattan

I left the drugstore and went and sat in the park
What language of waste had I been listening to,
Without hearing what is there, day’s grinding crust
Depositing scales of human skin on sills and in our hair
Constant swirl we sit and stand in, move through
Our ancestors all around us, waiting to be swept up
Once again, from sidewalk and chair, barbershop
Pile up of hair, dust on hair, and in the air around us
What we lose of our bodies does not come back
Leave something behind each moment you breathe,
Even in sleep shedding continues, even in this poem,
Which I wrote before we met and after we parted
What happened in that interval I still circle around
Blossoms of magenta dust lifted to your lips


John Yau

John Yau has three books that have landed or will soon land on earth: Joe Brainard: The Art of the Personal (Rizzoli, 2022); Tell It Slant (Omnidawn, 2023); John Pai: Liquid Steel (Rizzoli (2023). An exhibition, Disguise the Limit: John Yau’s Collaborations, will open at art museum of the University of Kentucky in Lexington in January 2024, curated by Stuart Horodner.


The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2023

All Issues