Published on Academy of American Poets (


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 to escape,
and now struggling
simply 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.


Copyright © 2016 by Monica Youn. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on April 13, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This poem is based on Martha Graham’s iconic dance solo Lamentation (1930), a portrait of a grieving woman, with a score by Zoltán Kodály. The dancer, seated on a bench, is entrapped in a knitted tube of stretchy blue fabric with only her face, hands, and feet visible. This poem is part of the title series of my forthcoming book Blackacre, a term that lawyers use to designate a hypothetical parcel of land, along with its variants whiteacre, blueacre, greenacre, etc.”
—Monica Youn


Monica Youn

Monica Youn grew up in Houston, Texas. She received a BA from Princeton University, a JD from Yale Law School, and an MPhil from the University of Oxford, where she was a Rhodes Scholar.

Youn is the author of Blackacre (Graywolf Press, 2016), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America; Ignatz (Four Way Books, 2010), a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in poetry; and Barter (Graywolf Press, 2003).

Of Blackacre, Robin Coste Lewis writes, “Youn transforms English itself, a vast landscape of repressed histories, into a seemingly black acre, too, an unexplored site, where suddenly the fraught relationships between the body, time, and history are stunningly articulated simultaneously.”

Youn is the recipient of the Levinson Prize, as well as fellowships from the Library of Congress, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, and Stanford University, among others. She is also known for her work as a lawyer specializing in election law, and was the guest editor for Poem-a-Day in May 2020. She is an associate professor at UC Irvine, is a member of the Racial Imaginary Institute, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


Blackacre (Graywolf Press, 2016)
Ignatz (Four Way Books, 2010)
Barter (Graywolf Press, 2003)

Date Published: 2016-04-13

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