New Criticals

...Yes, yes, these
old folks grown unpresuming,
almost Japanese,

had embarked too soon
—Bon Voyage! Write!—upon their
final honeymoon.

Throughout “Prose of Departure,” Merrill relies on orientalist tropes to draw parallels between his suffering and what he imagines to be the servile, long-suffering character of the people of Japan. Merrill describes observing a “‘Hiroshima’ of trivial symptoms” as evidence of his advancing HIV. In his sequence of haibun, Merrill cites only one scholar of Japanese culture, Lafcadio Hearn, the early 20th century American scholar now known for his overtly orientalist, exoticizing portraits of Japan. While Merrill’s haibun are wrenching for their unflinching look at untimely death, and breathtaking in their innovative use of rhymed haiku, Merrill’s poetic travel to Japan primarily serves as a metaphor for the deterioration of his mind and body.