Since the publication of her first book, Cruelty, in 1973, Ai has established a reputation for writing poems that express the cruel way that people in close relationships behave toward each other. Her poems are uninhibited in their presentation of sex, death, and the darker side of human desire. Often they are narrated by troubled, anonymous speakers, sometimes poor people or those who are otherwise on the margins of society. Ai does not shrink from expressing unsavory and shocking truths; she presents the difficult emotions and destructive acts of her speakers without condemning them.
“Reunions with a Ghost” first appeared in Ai’s fourth collection of poetry, Fate, which was published in 1991. The speaker of the poem is an anonymous woman who tells of her troubled relationship with the man she is in love with. It focuses on a particular incident that begins in disillusionment on the part of the woman, progresses to an act of lovemaking, and culminates in what appears to be the couple’s final separation, although other interpretations might be possible. The emotions expressed range from contempt to love, passion, sadness, and puzzlement; the poem reveals the difficulty that men and women have in forming a successful intimate partnership. Although Ai’s ethnic heritage is African American, Asian, and Native American, there is little in this poem that indicates the ethnicity of the two people involved. In that sense the poem is universal in the way it depicts hope, disillusionment, desire, reconciliation, and separation.