Sonnet Crown Whose Four Jewels May Not be Dispensed Without the Written Prescription of a Medical Practitioner

by Steven Duong

I. The Singer (Mitski Miyawaki) Tells Us

        she wants a love that falls as fast as a body
        from the balcony—and so do we—only
        we can’t say it out loud like she does, rattling
        in our ears like loose change, like rust-choked wind
        chimes in a storm, never seeking the notes
        but finding them anyway. What is love
        but a stained driveway, the body but its after-
        math? Ones and zeroes cut raw in the glass,
        deriving nothing from nothing. Whose fingers
        crammed down whose throat? How many impacts
        until fist becomes fifth? There’s a calculus to hurt,
        sings the singer, and we believe her, hurtling
        down I-80 like the last words of a dying
        star, the night washing us down with bourbon.

II. The Poet (Hai-Dang Phan) Tells Us

        our nights, washed down with bourbon, are nothing more
        than reenactments. Each migration from bed
        to car, front seat to back—a reprint of some
        flight path devised by our moon-eyed ancestors.
        A man detects mortar fire in China.
        You mourn him on a Saturday, a week
        since the doctor detected the friendly fire
        in his cells. A woman is caught before she can
        escape Saigon by boat. Next week, the pills
        catch me before I can escape her story
        by rope. We carry small wars on our backs,
        says the poet. We can’t explain this. We can’t
        explain us. You trace the white trails on my arm
        as you pull into park, so sure their ends are dead.

III. The Failed Refugee (My Mother) Tells Us

        to try again. Because there are no dead ends
        in a flight path. Every in is an out. Every
        one is a two laid low. In Little Saigon,
        she buys you a jade heart, me a waving cat.
        As if, trinketed in luck, we might hustle
        the family ghosts into haunting us, into
        breaking our falls and dulling our knives, letting
        our filial negligence slide. We abandon
        the car and bask in the drunk stutter of street-
        lamps, deaf to the stars—those elders tut-tutting
        in their shrines. Sometimes, history is a shrine
        we plant together. It sleeps beneath the soil
        like a landmine. Sometimes, a scar is neither a street
        nor a story, but a hyphen, a single line.

IV. The Unnamed Ghost Tells Us

        her story—a bone-white line across her throat.
        Given enough time, she says, are all stories
        not ghost stories? She is like us, only
        lighter (for being dead), and so, she clings
        to the air like incense smoke. The moment we
        swill down our pills she is gone. Her question hangs
        in the dark, quiet and alive. You squeeze my hand.
        The thing with incense is it eats itself
        alive to send a message. Here we are!
        We syllables of smoke, we animals
        shaved and sedated. Give us wings and we
        will join you. Give us tongues and we will translate
        ourselves. You may as well give us the crown
        because we’ve already swallowed the jewels.


This poem first appeared in The Asian American Writers' Workshop literary magazine, The Margins.

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