The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

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JUL-AUG 2020 Issue


Call to Prayer

Let us jeer all the officials
the muckety-mucks and know-it-alls
the city councilors, chairmen,
and presidents of the board

Let us make funny faces
whenever we are asked
to pause and listen
to one of their public announcements

Let us laugh long and heartily
whenever they somberly say
that they are with us
that they are sending us

their heartfelt prayers
their deepest condolences
their wishes for a speedy recovery

Let us hoot, like drunken owls
Let us be loud and obstreperous
Let us cackle, again and again

O Pin Yin Sonnet (18)
(Definitions for Joseph Donahue and Albert Mobilio)

A Senator is a larval form known to crawl into leather chairs
A wet market is where you go to buy a bucket of unwashed food
A Press Secretary is a compassionate angel who spews saccharine venom
A laboratory is what you need to coil together more diseases
A car is a machine you operate when you cannot cross a border
A hair salon is a spotless mirror where you breed more germs
A restaurant is a white tablecloth that lets you sneeze into the food
A President is someone unable to tell the truth to his children
A Secretary of State is the CEO in charge of manufacturing rumors
A housing complex is where you go to die among friends
A sweatshop is a delivery system to help shoppers save money
A scientist is an information processor that fits neatly into a lab coat
A buffoon is a smart person who believes the President
A patriot is often identified by his or her misspelled tattoos

O Pin Yin Sonnet (21)

I watched the old man, who is not that old, fall harder than he was pushed
The police walked by because they had seen this act before, many times
They teach it in Chinese circus and acrobat school, an easy trick to get an AHH
I watched the old man, a well-known agitator, a member of a terrorist group
He was carrying something in his hand, a device, probably made in China
Maybe the device sent the wrong signal, causing him to fall backward
That is because Chinese don’t read from left to right, but, get this, from right to left
I watched the old man fall, but was the blood coming from his head really his
All you need is a bag you can squeeze and everyone will think you are dying
I watched the old man, who is not that old, act like he had been pushed
After running into the police, tripping over his big feet, and falling backward
One moment he was standing, the next moment he was on the ground bleeding
You don’t get that way by being pushed; you get that way by falling
I watched the old man, who is not so old, fall before he was almost pushed

O Pin Yin Sonnet (22)
(Official Instructions)

Condolences are a teaspoon of non-lethal poison injected into sugary cakes
Prayers are a one-size-fits-all set of sweet nothings used in extreme situations
Hearts are recyclable red valentines you send virtually to people who knew the victim
Grief is an incurable disease that afflicts others; always make sure to act sympathetic
Remember to combine words such, as “heartfelt,” “sympathy,” and “suffering”
Remember to say, “I understand” whenever possible, in the shortest amount of space
Try to act like whatever affliction you are responding to isn’t normal and commonplace
You might need to point out that the Chinese don’t have words for “pain” and “anguish”
You should not explain that this is why they are inscrutable, and a complete mystery
The Chinese might have other words for grief, but all of them are unpronounceable
When you send a prayer, make sure none of the words are visible to nosy reporters
Condolences are an oversized envelope into which you cram all sorts of knick-knacks
Prayers do not need to be memorized since you don’t have to say them aloud
Tell everyone the Bible is your favorite book, but don’t say which part you like best


John Yau

John Yau has three books that have landed or will soon land on earth: Joe Brainard: The Art of the Personal (Rizzoli, 2022); Tell It Slant (Omnidawn, 2023); John Pai: Liquid Steel (Rizzoli (2023). An exhibition, Disguise the Limit: John Yau’s Collaborations, will open at art museum of the University of Kentucky in Lexington in January 2024, curated by Stuart Horodner.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2020

All Issues