Now that there are plenty of doors to enter, I step into one with dim blue light beneath its crack. I touch the knob, the door swings open, reveals my thirteen-year-old father. On his side a trunk of melted ice-cream, and it's raining behind him. His face a hole big enough to fill in my tongue. So I do it, a capsule of light falls into my mouth. I cannot hear a thing except his muffled cries filling the gaps between our timelines. The next thing I know, I'm already at the edge of the world: it's become so large I can no longer tell the difference between hell, heaven, and family. I remember the first time my father wiped his face: as the war just ended, grandma tucked two copper coins in his cheeks and called it charming. I wonder if there's a word for forgetting so much you feel almost human? My father believes a father isn't a father without the Buddha of the Underworld resting on his chest. Not yet born, I wrap my face in a blood-red cloth and put it inside a suitcase, ready to lament all the years I have yet lived. Quietly, he hurries himself into the broken moon in the lake as the wind strikes down an apricot tree with a noose hanging down its branch. I call his name, brittle like a sparrow speaking lost words. I want to say I am right here, but he wouldn't listen. A period expands into a black hole in the middle of the room where all poems end. I close my eyes, the way a blacksmith surrenders the flare of his sword upon his decapitation.
how we lived in vietnamese
when you plant a seed in vietnam it grows and grows - Xiao Yue Shan
which is true for everything here is either rare-metal or motherly: golden forests, silver seas, sacred motherland, etc. how we're born: throwing our names into the river and let alluvia shape our bodies as they strand along the banks. river-children. sun-burnt skin. we've made it here like an endless lucky streak, faces oversaturated like yellowed photographs. this is how beautiful we can get and yet, you still ask for more. a productive mantra made of sleepy mouths: to gnaw anything soft to the look, to carefully crack open hard shells of watermelon seeds with our teeth, and never fail. that's how close we get between eating and destructing. in case you're wondering: hunger, for years, ended up making us gentle: survived the metronome of history, took care of corpse-fed soils, and are still finding a way out. we've been taught to neither get too wolfed nor too lambed; for even footprints get filled up over time and our bellies won't stop demanding. sometimes I want to be possessed by ghosts and see what happens when past and present mashed into one. then, what do we have? a hologram of blood sanctimoniously held on a pedestal with too much pride to neglect. as postwar peasants, my parents used to make drinking straws out of hays to get a taste modernity. but it’s all different now. everything they did I didn't do. even the we in this poem is only an emblem the I uses to skulk off. to say amnesia is inadequate, for we can forget everything but the frankness of skin. here, I'm stepping in tree-lined, asphalt boulevards that used to be dirt roads some decades ago, which turned into small canals when the flood arrived.
Tam Nguyen is a poet, art writer, and apprentice curator, born and raised in the south end of Vietnam. His works appeared and are forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review, Softblow, DiaCRTICS, Dryland, Overheard, among others. He was a Pushcart Prize poetry nominee in 2021.