Self-Portrait in a Wire Jacket / by Monica Youn

Monica-Youn

To section off
is to intensify,

to deaden.
Some surfaces

cannot be salvaged.
Leave them

to lose function,
to persist only

as armature,
holding in place

those radiant
squares

of sensation–
the body a dichotomy

of flesh and
blood. Wait here

in the trellised
garden you

are becoming.
Soon you’ll know

that the strictures
have themselves

become superfluous,
but at that point

you’ll also know
that ungridded

you could no longer survive.

 

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About This Poem

“The wire jacket was a Boxer Rebellion-era Chinese torture device that was used to administer the infamous ‘death by a thousand cuts.’ I encountered its description in Sax Rohmer’s The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu, which I was reading as part of a project on Western representations of Asian culture. More abstractly, for me the wire jacket represented the consequences of living for too long under a system of constraint–how adaptation can involve an irrevocable, though self-imposed, loss of freedom.”

–Monica Youn

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Monica Youn’s second and most recent book of poems is Ignatz (Four Way Books, 2010), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. Youn lives in Manhattan, where she works as a lawyer.

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