Blackacre by Monica Youn

Monica Youn reads three poems from her new collection, Blackacre, published in September by Graywolf Press.


We have seen claims that Twinkies . . . aren’t baked, the sponge cake instead being “a pure Chemical reaction” involving something that “foams up”; the deception is made complete by coloring the confections’ bottoms brown to make it appear that they’ve been baked. . . . As always, the truth is far less exciting than the lore.

as if      you were ever wide-eyed enough to believe in urban legends

as if      these plot elements weren’t the stalest of clichés: the secret lab, the anaerobic

             chamber, the gloved hand ex machina, the chemical-infused fog

as if      every origin story didn’t center on the same sweet myth of a lost wholeness

as if      such longing would seem more palatable if packaged as pure nostalgia

as if      there had once been a moment of unity, smoothly numinous, pellucid

as if      inner and outer were merely phases of the same substance

as if      this whiteness had been your original condition

as if      it hadn’t been what was piped into you, what seeped into each vacant cell,

            each airhole, each pore

as if      you had started out skinless, shameless, blameless, creamy

as if      whipped, passive

as if      extruded, quivering with volatility in a metal mold

as if      a catalyzing vapor triggered a latent reaction

as if      your flesh foamed up, a hydrogenated emulsion consisting mostly of trapped air

as if      though sponge-like, you could remain shelf-stable for decades, part embalming

             fluid, part rocket fuel, part glue

as if      you had been named twin, a word for likeness; or wink, a word for joke; or

             ink, a word for stain; or key, a word for answer

as         if your skin oxidized to its present burnished hue, golden

as if      homemade



Lamentation (Martha Graham, 1930)

What shall I compare to you, that I may comfort you, virgin daughter of Zion? Lamentations 2:13

Wordless, ceaseless,
a second seamless skin—
this blue refrain

sings of comfort,
camouflage, the rarest
right—to remain

faceless, featureless,
the barest rune of ruin:
a chessboard pawn

that rears up into a castle
then topples in defeat,
an exposed vein

on a stretched-out throat
pulsing frantically
as if to drain

unwanted thoughts
into the body’s reservoir—
an inky stain

bluer than blushing,
truer than trusting,
the shadow zone

at the core of the flame—
too intense, too airless
to long remain

enveloped, as if
a moth lured to the light
were trapped, sewn

back in its cocoon,
the way the pitiless
mind goes on

gamma, lambda, chi—
a linked chain

of association no less
binding for being silken,
a fine-meshed net thrown

over the exhausted
animal, having given up
its vague, vain

efforts at escape,
and now struggling
merely to sustain

a show of resistance,
to extend a limb toward
extremity, to glean

one glimpse of light,
one gasp of air, then folding
inward, diving down

into the blue pool
at the body’s hollow center,
there to float, and drown.



After the clear plastic sheeting has been pulled back, folded away
After each woody rhizome has been pried loose from the soil
Each snarl of roots traced to its capillary ends
Twigs and pebbles tossed aside, worms reburied elsewhere
After the soil has been rubbed through a sieve
After the ground has been leveled with rakes and stakes and string

No need for further labor, further motion
Nothing has been sown
Nothing is germinating in the raw dirt
The light strikes each granule the same as any other

A windlessness rises
Becomes a precondition

Why is it hard to admit you couldn’t live here
No one could live here
This is not the texture of the real, lacking attachment, lacking event
This is neither landscape nor memory; this is parable, a caricature of restraint

But why does this shame you
Even now you’re trying to hide that your gaze is drifting upward
This plainness cannot hold your attention
You’re searching the sky for some marker of time, of change
In a cloudless sky the sun beats down
But if you observe that the sun warms the soil, you must also concede that the soil will grow colder
The sun stains only the body, and the body is what is simply not at issue here



Monica Youn, “Goldacre,” “Blueacre,” and “Brownacre,” from Blackacre. Copyright © 2016 by Monica Youn. Reproduced with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota,