From Ponte de Dom Luis
Yanyi’s “From Ponte de Dom Luis” responds to the “OK Boomer” meme, broadly conceived, with an ingenious adaptation of an inherited poetic form: the sestina. Sestinas, associated with the Provençal tradition of troubadour poetry, are organized by (among other things) the number six. Six stanzas of six lines each are succeeded by a three-line envoi. The form’s most striking feature is, perhaps, the rigorously patterned repetition of six end-words (introduced in the first stanza) throughout the poem until they congregate together in the envoi. “From Ponte de Dom Luis” recuperates this inherited form–which, like all inherited forms, bears the scars and laugh-lines of history–by way of humor and eros. To write a sestina in 2020 may be, in itself, a way of participating, poetically, in the serious joke of OK Boomer, making of the complicated echoes of history, which are always rearranging themselves in the present, the song it’s still possible to sing.
—Rebecca Ariel Porte, Poetry Editor
From Ponte de Dom Luís
I can see that the babies boomed
between ’55 and ’64, but my parents appeared
during a famine. One wants a reason for the chaos
that followed—a reason for the cannibalized
people—but the famine had ended. Here was one future
demanding all that fear
for a mythology of endings. I don’t fear
living among narcissists: that’s my childhood going boom!
until I “understand” we’ll spend the foreseeable future
leeching reefs with ice caps disappearing.
Between long latitudes of lying,
that which we call passion at other times may be chaos.
What’s in a time? I am logged by chaos.
I’ve inherited a history of watching and not interfering,
but now it goes against my grain to leave you lying
on a mattress next to an antiquated boom
box and doing nothing. Chaos sings then disappears
into your flesh, and I say “flesh” to elicit the first suture
between us. It’s not just sex. What I want is a future.
I want our sweat and our chaos—
what is that line? White hills, white thighs?—appearing
next to irises undulating through the atmosphere.
By “white” I mean the smog stays blooming
in the absence of my fantasies. And soon I’ll lie
on a beach afraid of oceans paralyzed
by thriving acid. What’s more is I’m longing; I want a future
with a conch on my back, tsunamis booming
through my ribs until la Primavera inches from chaotic
loam. Tell me again it’s not a job to hope. The card of Fear
draws the card of Hope, and where the tides are disappearing
are the famines where my parents first appeared
from. Which myth is this? The sun’s still loose and lying
on the Douro, which was once feared
to be so dammed it’d break into lakes for all of its futures.
But I feel your arms as they rest near mine without chaos,
where the present glows as sweeping as a foghorn boom,
and I’ll trade my fears in this port of disappearing
cirrus for the hope that lies in loving you: the boon
of rejecting my given future and to make one out of chaos.