The Second Person
Playlist by Jean Yoon 8 poems
These are just a few poems that make clever, heartrending, enigmatic, and startling uses of the second person. I am fascinated by you--the second person pronoun--because of its capaciousness and changeability. There is the you that refers just to you, the singular you; but then there's the plural you, the group of you, the masses of all of you; there's the you you that is all of us or all of them at once; there's the you that is actually a part of me. I love second person address because it seems to lay bare the communicative thrust behind all acts of poetry. To invoke you in my poem calls attention to the fact that--whether you are out there and listening or not, whether you are specific or general, living or dead, human or nonhuman--you exist, I remember you, and I am trying to reach you.
1. Again
Fatimah Asghar
2. Face
Kim Hyesoon
3. The Whole Thing Is The Hard Part
Heather Christle
4. Poem Without Forgiveness
Dean Young
5. A Blessing In Disguise
John Ashbery
6. [You, I have used (without your knowledge) to label myself]
Ursula Andkjær Olsen
7. Any Lit
Harryette Mullen
8. [Trying to see the proportional relation]
Ariana Reines
my younger self
is on the bed

next to you.
again.

my now-body
next to a new sleeping

lover, & yet
my now-body

in the room
all over

& now I have a choice.
save her or watch.

you keep bringing me
here, you who

keeps her pinned
& I’m annoyed

to be in this
room again

the moldy lampshade
& empty walls

the faucet that won’t
quit, its steady

drip the whole night
miles/years away

miles/years away
my younger self

is on the bed
next to you

my younger
legs wound around

the heavy moat
of your waist

my younger stomach
a lake which you

boat through
my younger self

knows I’m in the room
looks for me

above/ in the corner
my younger wrists

sink to the ocean’s
bed my younger

ears shells to hear
my younger

voice a bubble
in the room

it’s hard
to understand

I see your point
I guess

what a no sounds like
below water
Kim Hyesoon • trans. Don Mee Choi
There is another you inside you

The you inside you pulls you tight into the inside, so your fingernails curl inward and your outer ears swirl into the inside of your body you would probably leave this life the moment the you inside you lets go of the hand that grabs you

Your face stays frozen in motion as the you inside you pulls you hard at times, that face leans towards mine outside of you and I can feel the you inside you looking at me from the inside of your eyes; but the you inside you has never once let go of the hand that grabs you as always you are pulled tight now your face has deep creases from the strain

The you inside you is so strong that the I inside me is about to get dragged into your inside

Now you are drinking a glass of red wine, holding a piece of cheese in your hand

The I inside me thinks about the face that the cheese is made of milk then worries about which cow inside the cow has spurted out the milk

Even if you are far away, another you inside you is here I can’t escape or avoid the you inside you

Maybe I am the prisoner of an absent being

I will certainly stay alive while the I inside me clutches onto me; furthermore, I want to deliver the cheese made of me inside me to your table every morning
you  have  to  live  where  the  house  lands  on  you
what else can you do         your bones are all broken
and somebody loves you      who is it       tell me who
loves you      not as much as I do     I mean     I even
built you a house        and found you         why won’t
you live in it
The husband wants to be taken back
into the family after behaving terribly,
but nothing can be taken back,
not the leaves by the trees, the rain
by the clouds. You want to take back
the ugly thing you said, but some shrapnel
remains in the wound, some mud.
Night after night Tybalt’s stabbed
so the lovers are ground in mechanical
aftermath. Think of the gunk that never
comes off the roasting pan, the goofs
of a diamond cutter. But wasn’t it
electricity’s blunder into inert clay
that started this whole mess, the I-
echo in the head, a marriage begun
with a fender bender, a sneeze,
a mutation, a raid, an irrevocable
fuckup. So in the meantime: epoxy,
the dog barking at who knows what,
signals mixed up like a dumped-out tray
of printer’s type. Some piece of you
stays in me and I’ll never give it back.
The heart hoards its thorns
just as the rose profligates.
Just because you’ve had enough
doesn’t mean you wanted too much.
Yes, they are alive and can have those colors,
But I, in my soul, am alive too.
I feel I must sing and dance, to tell
Of this in a way, that knowing you may be drawn to me.

And I sing amid despair and isolation
Of the chance to know you, to sing of me
Which are you. You see,
You hold me up to the light in a way

I should never have expected, or suspected, perhaps
Because you always tell me I am you,
And right. The great spruces loom.
I am yours to die with, to desire.

I cannot ever think of me, I desire you
For a room in which the chairs ever
Have their backs turned to the light
Inflicted on the stone and paths, the real trees

That seem to shine at me through a lattice toward you.
If the wild light of this January day is true
I pledge me to be truthful unto you
Whom I cannot ever stop remembering.

Remembering to forgive. Remember to pass beyond you into the day
On the wings of the secret you will never know.
Taking me from myself, in the path
Which the pastel girth of the day has assigned to me.

I prefer “you” in the plural, I want “you”
You must come to me, all golden and pale
Like the dew and the air.
And then I start getting this feeling of exaltation.
Ursula Andkjær Olsen • trans. Katrine Øgaard Jensen
You, I have used (without your knowledge) to label myself
as what I am: your invisible servant.

I have used you, my invisible creature, to label myself as
what I am: Everything and Nothing.

I am indebted to you, servant, when I label myself as visible,
namedrunk, Everything.

I have used Nothing to call myself what I am, servant, so that
when you call my name, everything will happen.

I am indebted to you, invisible creature, when I call myself Everything
without your knowledge, without my knowledge
so that when you call my name.

I have used you, without your knowledge, to call myself
Nothing, so that when you call 1000 names, I will come, I will come.

You are in debt to me for naming yourself, for what you are
my invisible servant. We are connected like this: chained, so that
when you call your name, I will come.

Let us love so that when I call, your name will grow and fill up everything.

Let us love so that when you call, my name will.
from Third Millennium Heart (Action Books, 2017)
You are a ukulele beyond my microphone
You are a Yukon beyond my Micronesia
You are a union beyond my meiosis
You are a unicycle beyond my migration
You are a universe beyond my mitochondria
You are a Eucharist beyond my Miles Davis
You are a euphony beyond my myocardiogram
You are a unicorn beyond my Minotaur
You are a eureka beyond my maitai
You are a Yuletide beyond my minesweeper
You are a euphemism beyond my myna bird
You are a unit beyond my mileage
You are a Yugoslavia beyond my mind’s eye
You are a yoo-hoo beyond my minor key
You are a Euripides beyond my mime troupe
You are a Utah beyond my microcosm
You are a Uranus beyond my Miami
You are a youth beyond my mylar
You are a euphoria beyond my myalgia
You are a Ukranian beyond my Maimonides
You are a Euclid beyond my miter box
You are a Univac beyond my minus sign
You are a Eurydice beyond my maestro
You are a eugenics beyond my Mayan
You are a U-boat beyond my mind control
You are a euthanasia beyond my miasma
You are a urethra beyond my Mysore
You are a Euterpe beyond my Mighty Sparrow
You are a ubiquity beyond my minority
You are a eunuch beyond my migraine
You are a Eurodollar beyond my miserliness
You are a urinal beyond my Midol
You are a uselessness beyond my myopia
Trying to see the proportional relation
Of one memory to another
One is so strange, and then
To try and see what looms
And doesn’t for the other person
Who was there, it gets stranger,
Especially when you’ve read
His email.
I don’t know how people
Understand their lives, measure
Their sensations against “objective”
Or so-to-speak democratic estimations,
Whether people accept the externality
Of events, “events,” as things
That happen to them. I refuse
To accept some coagulate
Of other people’s
Impressions in exchange for this
Privacy, no matter how flawed it is.
This is lyric poetry. It has to be. It has
No other hope. What was it
About you and me that made whatever
Happen to us. In New York
Everything fell apart. What I dreaded
And expected.
But still. Tonight
It is dark and the weather is cooler
Than it’s been. It has taken
A while for Fall to break; the global
Warming kept me in summer
Love with you like I was under a
Fermata. Now that the times
Are changing, I feel
Even more for you; or I feel nothing.
I can’t tell; it’s kind
Of scary. I was sick of thinking
About you this morning but
I was listening to Bob Dylan and Leonard
Cohen in order to think about
You for literary purposes.
When I feel nothing for a person
I get scared I’m losing my humanity
And that turning cold means
My heart’s been botoxed: we’re
All fucked.
I watched a movie on YouTube
Called Ladies and Gentlemen, Mister
Leonard Cohen that was made when
He was still just a poet and only
Famous in Canada.
He’s a pretentious little nerd
In it, self-important, teacher’s pet wit.
I think that, making music, he became
So much nakeder, much more desperate.
The talent, real, even pure, even
Natural, had to ripen in
The artificial man.
Alain Badiou, on the day
Of his class, said, “Because an event
Is pure rapture, an event disappears
Immediately: it does not exist
Objectively, but only by appearing
And disappearing.” This is both
Precise and vague; it is attractive
I guess. I guess since you and me did not
Disappear immediately, it was
Not pure rapture, not in these
Terms, but my smile
Was real each time I swallowed
Your cum. Getting
Fucked by you was great; I could
Feel it in my organs, but
You didn’t make me go insane
Except for maybe once
Or twice. Actually maybe I am
Being unfair. Maybe the fucking really
Was that great. In this moment I
Can’t remember.
I just read a poetry
Review in which the reviewer
States that a certain book
Made his cock feel as though
It were tall as a tree. That’s
Nice. I have no idea
What it feels like to have
A cock. Sometimes I feel
As though I’m getting close
To understanding and then
Something happens to make
Me have no clue again. When Sinan
Fucks me, we lose our individuality
So severely it’s like we’re both
Gasping after an animal that’s his
Cock that is beyond us and I lose
All sense of the world. His cock’s
Not even him, and he’s not him either
And we aren’t anything.
It’s strange, the possessive. Didn’t Thomas
Mann write a book called Herr
Und Hund or something like that?
Man’s best friend. What belongs
To him. Me and Sunder
Talked about how scary and arousing
It is to watch men masturbate, cos
Everyone relates differently to his.
Like dicks are always almost but never
Quite another. Je est un autre,
Said that brat Arthur Rimbaud.
I am definitely in love with you
As I write this. You are so petty
And superfluous I cannot stand
You. Sinan is definitely
In love with me. I know, because
I saw him tonight. I love
Him too. You are gracious
To accord me the space and time
In which to develop, or to elaborate
Upon, as the French say, these
Extreme emotions I am, despite
The odds and certain lapses,
So capable of feeling.
It was good to slap
Your face and to admit
That your asshole
Made me nervous.
Your eyes had a way
Of going soft and shiny
When you said the really
Tender things. We admitted
It was intimidating
For us both to hear each other describe
People we’ve fucked and been
In love with. I’m proud of what
We accomplished together. Alain Badiou
Ended his class with a reading
Of “Ariane et Barbe-Bleue” which
Is an opera by Paul Dukas. You
And me had gone pretty far
By the time this day came, and
Something very fragile in me breaks
When somebody says my name, or
Even a variant of it. I was tired.
I think Badiou discusses “Ariane”
In Being and Event which
I have not read. In class he said
That the story of the opera is
About the relationship between law
And freedom, and that it shows
That the desire for freedom is not
So simple. Ariane experiences an Event
That causes her to demand freedom, Badiou
Said, but she is unable to convince anybody
Else, any other women to want freedom; she ends up alone.
She genuinely falls in love with the wicked
Bluebeard at the beginning. Bluebeard
Who previously got women by having a castle
To lock them in. This woman Ariane
Does not have to be taken
By force. When she enters
His castle he hands
Her seven keys, six
Of which he gives her permission
To use, and leaves. She hears the cries
Of his other, imprisoned wives,
Coming from behind a door. So she uses
The forbidden key, releasing them.
Meanwhile Bluebeard is assaulted
By the local peasants, who want
To free Ariane, fearing her fate will turn out like
That of the women who came before her.
But Ariane is already free
In herself, and proves this freedom
By bringing the wounded Bluebeard
Home, caring tenderly for him, and then
Declaring that she’s leaving him for good.
By the end Bluebeard’s shattered, sobbing,
Bleeding. Ariane
Invites the other wives to leave with her
In a wrenching aria, pleading
With them one by one to taste
With her the freedom awaiting
Them, The World. But they all prefer confinement
Even though they had longed
For freedom before Ariane opened
Their door. Once liberty arrived they were no
Longer capable of it, preferring to serve; even a gutted,
Hollowed-out power. Ariane exits
Alone. The end. Badiou narrated
This with emotion and
I cried. Maybe cos I was tired and
That thing about my name or because
I am not heroic or free.
I had missed half of Alain Badiou’s
Lectures messing around with you
On the couch by the fire; in the women’s
Toilets; up on the hill. If this were a suitable parable,
And it isn’t, I would try to tell myself
That those very early mornings in Brooklyn when I sat
Up in your bed feeling wrong and
Got dressed and walked away, I should
Have stayed away cos I don’t need you.
Maybe I don’t need you. But I want
You. Maybe I don’t love you. But
I am getting to know you. Maybe
What made me cry in class was how tired
I was and how sad and hard
It is, and how rare, to undertake an act
That’s truly free, and not just a response
To a confused surge of drives and  fears.
from Coeur De Lion (Fence Books, 2007)