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.