A Poem For Friday

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

The poet Ai is quoted in Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of African American Poetry, “I write about scoundrels: my speciality is generally scoundrels.” She burst onto the poetry scene in 1970 with a stunning book entitled Cruelty, which included the poem below. This is our final poem celebrating Black History Month.

“The Anniversary” by Ai:

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.

(From The Collected Poems of Ai © 1973 by Ai. Used by permission of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Video of Susan Wheeler reading Ai at a Poetry Society of America event, “Yet Do I Marvel: Iconic Black Poets of the 20th Century“)