Self-Portrait in a Wire Jacket

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

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.


Copyright © 2013 by Monica Youn. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 8, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

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