My Heart Is That Eternal Rose Tattoo


John Yau is a prolific poet and art critic, an innovative publisher, editor, and curator, and his new book is an exhilarating collection of short fictions and prose poems.
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John Yau is a prolific poet and art critic, an innovative publisher, editor, and curator, and his new book is an exhilarating collection of short fictions and prose poems.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With language as lovely as it is strange, he describes paintings not yet painted, photos not yet taken, and movies not yet made. His many admirers will be delighted.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781574231687
  • Publisher: Godine, David R. Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/28/2001
  • Pages: 165
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Samarkand Update

(after Clark Ashton Smith)

In one corner of the main waiting room of a vast, five-sided bus depot, which is one of thirteen sharply peaked structures rising above the terrain, that highly disciplined bands of hooded and numbered gnomes erected along the Silk Road last spring, two winged creatures squat comfortably within their voluminous cotton robes. Identical yellow and blue diamond patterns, they are not a design but some kind of signal or beacon.

Three large red moths hover above them. On each wing there appears to be an eye, almond shaped and outlined in fine black dust, which reminds the figure (the reader), who is sitting almost directly opposite the winged creatures (pages of text), of certain nearly forgotten icons.

Huddled at one end of a long wooden bench (or pew), each creature carefully pores over a large oblong octavo, its pages filled with vertical rolls of helical script. Pages reading pages. The beginning of a hall of mirrors into which these figure have entered.

Hexagonal tiles of scorpions and cantelopes. Symmetrical cerulean blue butterfly stain on wall between two onyx inlaid doors leading to overlapping tings of arrival and departure platforms. Arranged on the flanking windowsills, an anonymous tribute; two rows of nine emerald-colored lizards lying on their backs. Between these offerings, mounted on the wall directly behind the winged figures, is a row of black-and-white photographs taken in one of the three documentary styles that briefly delighted the inhabitants of thesurrounding villages.

Seven celebrated eunuchs stare at the ball of bright air gathered before their unblinking eyes, the formal pose of their bald heads and wrinkled countenances frozen in the photograph's collective memory of what a locked room crammed with labeled jars preserves for all eternity in the irregularly numbered vaults carved into the granite substrata beneath the palace basement.

Outside the bus depot, one can hear a crow singing, possibly the one that has been genetically altered; it is covered with a cloak of red feathers and punctuated by a long gold beak. It is said that if one listens carefully to his squawking, one hears him sing of a marketplace where presence and absence barter over what's to be exchanged. It is said that he wants to reclaim a body he longer remembers possessing, a body that he believes existed in the cold corridors of his past.

Others claim, however, that to satisfactorily interpret the crow's song is to exile him from this cylindrical forest, its dense calligraphy, and that whatever words one hears in his cawing are the last and first noises you made in your sleep.

Copied from the Margins

A gouged wall or scratched mirror or both. A pool of brocade swallows in imported smoking jackets. This anthracite shatter was supposed to have been excised pages ago, about the time dinosaurs were abducted by cartoonists in tall rubber boots. Pried loose from every book of handkerchief candy.

Copied from the Margin 2

Candle smoke coagulates on uneven surface face of a heavenly cloud, its shifting plumage. We drop the postcard into a box. Later we boarded a cart headed for the airport. A red cart. A red cart with yellow wheels. The kind that turns backwards in the afternoon sun. When it is a plum floating in peach nectar injected with streaks of delicious poison. Who has time to remember all this someone shouted, arms outstretched, neck muscles pulsing to the digital watch surgically embedded in his right eye. And so we waved good-bye to the dogs before they got too juiced.


I drifted through a string of sand-clogged towns, an ejected blue deity. I got plopped on every floor. I toured the shovel factory and kissed a row of obedient mitten warmers. It wasn't enough to satisfy the supplicants, their mouths busy forming the platitudes by which they raised themselves from the nearly alive but not quite dead status. I climbed through the rungs in a zoo. I embraced statues after I gouged out their eyes.

Excerpted from MY HEART IS THAT ETERNAL ROSE TATTOO by John Yau. Copyright © 2001 by John Yau. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Samarkand Update 15
Copied from the Margins 18
Copied from the Margins (2) 19
Swan 20
Another Name for It 21
Almost Between a Rock and a Hard Place 22
Scenes from Family Life 23
While Waiting for the Weather to Retreat 25
The Perfectionist 27
Shorter Version 28
Opening Scene 29
Robert Walser Speaks about Robert Walser 30
Untitled I 35
Untitled II 36
Untitled III (A False Painting) 38
Untitled IV 39
Untitled V (Unsent Postcard) 40
Untitled VI (In Place of a Dream) 41
Untitled VII 42
Untitled VIII (Movie Plots #13 through 39) 44
Untitled IX (Posted Postcard) 46
Untitled X (False Painting #2) 47
Untitled XI (after Franz von Stuck and Arnold Bocklin) 48
Untitled XII 49
Untitled XIII (First Variation on XII) 50
Untitled XIV 51
Untitled XV (After an Unknown Artist) 52
Untitled XVI 53
Untitled XVII 54
Untitled XVIII (Guide to Museum Collection) 55
Untitled XIX (Recent Acquisitions) 57
The Last Emperor Lives on the Moon 61
Cadmium Deposits, Cobalt Traces, and Ocher Mist 75
Heraclitus's Parking Lot 78
Film Adaptations of Five of America's Most Beloved Poems 81
Genghis Chan, The Film 84
Lake Country 86
The Long Way Around 89
Double-Headed Creature Features 92
The Story So Far, and Not One Step Father 96
The Shortest Distance between Two Walls 99
Summer Rental 102
Summer Hiatus 105
Poem Based on a Non-Existent Photograph 108
Our Small but Perfect Town 113
The Difference Between Autobiography and Romance 117
The Dog and Pony Opera 119
I'm Just a Factory Boy 123
Second Chapter 125
Side Street Adjacent to Lower Breughel Parkway 127
The Annual Indoor Picnic of Ambulatory Somnambulists 130
The Unexpurgated Biography of Simon Yam 133
Untitled and Unnumbered 137
Three Panels from an Anonymous Fifteenth-Century Painting Which Has Been Subsequently Repainted on Two Occasions 139
Three Wheel Rocket 141
My Heart Is That Eternal Rose Tattoo 145
from Obit to Possible Epitaph 151
Single 152
Double Self-Portrait 153
Caption to a Postcard from the 20th Century 159
Chinese Spoke 160
Chinese Spoke (2) 161
A Physical Matter 162
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