The lines in Mia Kang’s poems have two sides at least: One points to reading and another points to writing. They have an edge. And they are not to be confused with poems that use the Classics to cast personal drama in a mythological light. Instead, these poems plagiarize the past’s apocrypha and turn its foundational fictions against themselves, reminding us that the patriarchy’s myths are bound for eternal return unless their syntax is exploded. This is precisely what Kang does with the notion of the hero and the vestal virgin whose enforced chastity renders her bodiless, silent. Note how in “Livy Theorizes the Social” “heir apparent” becomes “no one hero is here apparent.” And in the marvelous “Rhea Silvia, Buried Alive (Figure to Ground)” the eponymous speaker declares: “I was a ruled body / with lines wide enough to write between.” We follow suit and read between them.

I am taken with the subtlety and complexity that Kang’s poems pack into their measured forms, tackling power dynamics, inner drives, and reading’s mechanisms. But I am even more taken with their how: with their rigorous purchase on words and with the way in which they put poetry’s devices to the test —repetition, line breaks, word play, polyvalence.

I recently came across an essay by Lyn Hejinian from 1976, “A Thought Is The Bride of What Thinking,” in which she writes: “Certain themes are incurable.” Hence, mythology, of course. Yet, who doesn’t ache for a new script?  

—Mónica de la Torre

Livy Theorizes the Social

Romulus made his attack… He ordered his men to come by different routes to the king’s palace at an appointed time. Remus collected another group and came to their assistance from Numitor’s house. And so he killed the king.
—Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, translated by Valerie Warrior

And so he killed the king
where king means [blood
] and [he] could

mean any twin
who fits the bill. Livy enacts
the instability

of subject
as pronoun, and as in
relation to the king:

blood of blood
and so fore-
shadows fratricide.

And so he killed
the king, where so means
means to end

and king means [brother
of my mother’s father
and kill is

what it always is. And so
tells us something
about the structure

of death: first description,
then the main event.
And so he killed

the king. And so he
killed the king.
From all sides

a net of guile
but no one hero
is here apparent;

[he] means merely
soon to be with
-out another. And so

the king is killed
at every hand—

it was me, climbing in
-to Rome to read
for reasons men

go missing, mediate
who inhabits the sentence.
The grammar runs

cold. Livy quiets
the singular person, and so
finds us out.

• • •

Rhea Silvia, Buried Alive (Figure to Ground)

A whole body becomes no body.
A nobody becomes a body of earth.

I was a ruled body
with lines wide enough to write between.

Virgin, lover, mother, dead.
It doesn’t matter which version is true.

Mars comes inside and the body fills
with another body, then another and another.

Mars comes inside and the wax body
melts at the touch of bronze.

Where the kiss was, dirt
fills the cavity. Where the words were, earth.

It happens gradually. Who digs
my grave? A command in the early morning.

I stand at the lowest point.
This is what digging does: lowers

the earth relative to itself. A hole
transforms the surrounding surface—

All this you see now
is only one version
, says the hole.

The whole body rights itself
into the hollow. A man’s hands lower

me onto my back. In no version
do I ask for otherwise—let me

go, says the hole body. I close
my eyes against the light.

I receive a blessing
of dirt. I receive endless blessings

over every part: ankle, kneecap, hipbone.
I can bend like anyone until the dirt

is too heavy, and I warm
to stillness. Last the face:

mouth, nose, eyes. A body learns
slowly; it still tries to respire.

The dirt itself is made
immaterial, since the lungs understand

only lack. To gasp
in anticipation of relief—

that’s the whole body
in love. I die, I die, I die. I was

a ruled body, with lines wide
enough to hold my

ground. I was Mars’ nobody
until I ruled myself out.

• • •

Mars Falls / Honeymoon Suite

Mars at the podium, Mars in his gmail, Mars on the platform, Mars in the elevator, Mars in the park, Mars in his office, Mars on the steps, Mars at the door, Mars in his kitchen, Mars in his room, Mars on the couch, Mars on the floor, Mars at the river, Mars on the phone, Mars at work, Mars at a conference, Mars in a paper, Mars by text message, Mars in a daydream, Mars in midtown, Mars across town, Mars in the heat, Mars at his desk, Mars at his books, Mars on the train, Mars in the mind, Mars in a memory, Mars in the summer, in May, as in May I?, but it was too soon, we were wrong, it was spring.

             Mars & I consider the problem of circumscribed futures.
             Mars & I look at the grid and think slant thoughts.
             Mars & I send signs and get it wrong.
             Mars & I invent a version.
             Mars & I make choices, on purpose, to regret.

Because I had no body I was looking for one.
Mars saw a body in me.
We bodied up against each other to prove it.
I proved it. I was no body to come home to.

                        I said yes and I meant it. Yes recklessly with office door shut or while his girlfriend was in Canada. Later when I couldn’t ask his advice I wondered about the limits

of questions and answers. For instance What do you want? etc. And in fact it was posed to me as a hypothetical: If we

were to how would you want it? I said From behind. And then we did.

And that’s the difference between theory and practice.


In another version I am buried alive.

In another version Mars takes me by force. Why can’t a woman want the wrong thing without becoming victim? I said yes and I meant it. Yes he took advantage; yes I asked him to.

[I want to forget everything. I don’t want to see the future. I wanted Rome to burn before it ever existed.

            Or maybe I was futureless already. Why else choose this ending.]

According to Wikipedia, my name means guilty woman of the forest, i.e. the woman who was seduced there.

According to Wikipedia, my story is a prototypical “invention scene.” Mars invents me. I don’t disagree.

                        Because I had no body Because I was losing some body
                        I was looking I was closing my eyes
                        for one I was turning
                        Mars saw a body I wanted to become
                        in me invisible
                       so I invited myself to a myth-making


                        We made it as one makes an image, a scene, that is to say we discussed it, we considered, we chose our angles and arranged the bodies like so.

We bodied up against each other I asked you not to write
to prove it. To prove it.

• • • 

Twin II

[Is fratricide a dream
of suicide, misplaced

onto the loved and hated body
one recognizes as one’s own?

Is suicide a dream
for a brother, gesture requesting

additional existence, more hands
in the loam? The marking

of a deficit always present,
no less real

for having been lively, singular
apparently whole?] 

• • •


I find Rome in Ann Arbor
while digging to discover
my next life. I give up

archaeology’s ghost
to a red bird tattooed

along his ribs, black band
inked around wrist.
I know this isn’t

the life I will choose;
therefore I can

desire it. Bent
at the sharp edge,
marble and flex—I fear the lyric

but not the fantastic, the gray
Taurus and the Hampton Inn.

Relics resurface
figure from ground. The hand
in situ makes a long

time coming a new
alterity—Rome’s hills

before names, bird
falling to the palm below.
We crunch fortune

cookies, cache their bits
as Ann Arbor burns behind us.