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“Sun Worshippers”
and Other Poems


John Yau

Art by Steve DiBenedetto


Sun Worshippers

They are our representatives to the warm, tasty sun.

They are the priests and priestesses that revel in our name.

They are our representatives–we get to elect the ones we want

to participate in rituals of frolic and relax.

They enter the turquoise waters from a fringe of fine white sand

that baptism is the prayer they send to the sun on our behalf

our desire to be bathed in its motherly light and fatherly warmth.

We watch them, like rescue dogs given a new life: this is our worship.

We want to be like them; this is our fervent longing for transcendence,

to be delivered to the land of everlasting light,

to no longer be a tail-less dog panting in the dark

sitting near the pantry, scratching our ears furiously.

They send us pictures so that we know where they are and what they are doing.

They know they cannot be out of our sight.

They let us follow them around, see what they are shopping for.

We learn what to spend our money on,

how to follow in their footsteps from a worshipful distance.

For this we are thankful.


Memories of Charles Street, Boston

One day I wake up and my hair has turned white
and I am no longer Chinese.

I want to ask my mother about this change in my appearance
but she has been dead longer than I have been alive.

You have to take the good with the bad she used to tell me
before trying to drown me in the bathtub.

My father sat in the next room in his imported black underwear,
smoking a perfumed cigar, and jerking off

in front of the television he had dragged in from the street.
It never worked. It still doesn’t, and the blue stains on the chair

are why I never sit there.


Pink Umbrellas in a Black Rain

What if you watched a movie in a language you do not know and must communicate the plot to someone who does not understand what you are saying? Suppose you suddenly remember that the first tongue that tasted yours belonged to a person who said that kissing was like rolling large cubes of lime Jell-o around in your mouth when no one is looking, and that being in love is like trying to understand a movie that no one has ever described accurately, and that all that exists of this movie–which was lost long ago–are the many essays that have been written about it, neatly bound in a book that seems to always be missing a few pages. What has puzzled the scholars who have pored over this tattered book, like ants searching for a tidbit to carry back to the nest, is that each description denies the existence of all the others. In one elegantly embellished passage the diabolical clay horse is black and red and in another the teacup moon is missing a foot and cannot move or turn in time. None of the descriptions fits with any of the others. It is like a jigsaw puzzle where each part comes from a box with a different picture on it. Some of the fragments that have been detailed include a metal squirrel as big as a house, a beach towel that is also a treasure map, and a dome whose interior is painted blue and gold. What if you watched a movie, which you cannot turn into a picture that sums up something essential about what you saw? What is it that your eyes crave and which you, thinking separately from your eyes, conclude that you cannot do without, even though the chances are likely that your yearning will never be met. What journey have you set out on, in your cardboard boat? Wait. Did I tell you that I am convinced that this is what the main character in the movie keeps repeating: did I ever tell you that I dream about you even when I am asleep?


John Yau

John Yau has two books forthcoming. Omnidawn will publish Genghis Chan on Drums and Lund Humphries will issue his monograph on the Chinese artist, Liu Xiaodong in the fall of 2021. He was the 2018 recipient of the Jackson Prize in poetry. He continues to live in New York City.

Steve DiBenedetto

Steve DiBenedetto was born in the Bronx, New York in 1958 and is a recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship Award, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Painting, and the Tiffany Foundation Award. He regularly shows his work in New York and around the globe, including the exhibition Remote Viewing at the Whitney Museum (NY) and a survey show at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

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