Vi Khi Nao

Iron Law, 1983



Three men drift into linen, the ancient


textile of flax.




Flimsy, but wild like a wildflower.




Light paints on his chest a fish relief.


To stand still on a stone made of flesh.




A man, most likely a man, is a fugitive of


pain & pushes himself into the threshold


of Stygian beauty: spots of dusk, pools of


dire sadness.




This iron world is ruthless.




The men drift, not existing in words.


Existing in pain/t.




Flower, leaf, or eye: the earth sees well


without light.




The tallest man in the art has the


authority. His art is incandescent.




Two men in the painting are improperly


framing the landscaping of the


evanescent man in disgrace.




No one in the modern world can afford


either despair or transient beauty any


more. Thus, this. This landscape filled


with primordial will.

Dying Couple, 1993



It’s difficult to see, but we are lying on


firm mats made out of umber resin. Our


skulls have teeth and they have begun to






My wife. Yes, my wife. She has these


urges for rhubarb stalks. I have gripped


my fingers inside myself, longing to grow


some out of my sternum for her. For


her. For her.




When my lungs blush, I am a little girl.


Lying here I thought our bones, like


paper towels, were trying to whisper into


our bloodstream.




We are mildew suspended in an invisible


grocery sack.




The sun dips back.




We are in the dark with our canes. Our


belly buttons look like small craters of


light, wishing it would rain so that they


convert into miniature lakes.




We are not lonely and we are not bored


with gazing up. My husband looks


saintly, doesn’t he? So prepared for war.


Heroic, no?




We are at death’s door. Our flesh will


moan, will murmur, will speak softly,


our darkness will no longer belong to us.


We must let go, but we can’t let go.


VI KHI NAO is the author of a novel, Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and The Old Philosopher (Nightboat Books, 2016), a poetry collection. Vi’s work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She was the winner of the 2014 Nightboat Poetry Prize and the 2016 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest.


A Note on the Poems: These poems are ekphrastic studies of the figurative paintings of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, from the time period of 1983-2005.