Judas Regrets his Betrayal

by Khôi Nguyên Trinh



I never remember that you’re sixty-three years old

until you cry, tears leaking like our kitchen sink does

no matter how you adjust the faucet. Some days,

we can pretend it’s the soap opera that you’re watching,

that the blind mother working for her daughter’s future

is all that this is about. On those days, 

I let you tell me about the side characters

until your voice steadies.

You tell me their story is boring,

that you skip through it. 

The wet tracks on your face shine

from the tv screen, but your sniffling stops.

We can pretend that it’s okay.

If I leave, it’s to make your apple tea,

always with the promise that I will return.


Other days, your tears sound like “mẹ,” sound like “mệt,” like

“Ngày đó, không một thứ gì là của má.” 

In these moments, I know that I have failed you,

that English has failed me. 

Shiny gold medals don’t matter if I can’t melt them

into dangly gold earrings.

Scholarships don’t matter if all your friends worth telling

live halfway across the world.

And all that reading old white men has taught me 

is that the best way to love someone is to write them.

So I do. I stop trying to talk to you and write

about how I love you, how you love me.

I stitch blooming red orchids for your eyes

and douse you in homemade fish sauce until the smell lingers

in the paper, despite the fact it’s been twenty-four years 

since you’ve last sat with your parents, 

layering anchovies and sea salt in clay pots.

When these motifs become stale,

I twist your mouth until English falls out of it,

call it a dedication to my mom. I’m sorry I have killed you.


I cannot drag your body across the page and call it poetry,

so I offer mine.

Má ơi, con hứa to abandon returning,

to always be a hummed tune, a ladle of broth, a crochet stitch away from you.

Con hứa that there will be no first and last suppers,

that our meals will blur until we cannot see the end or beginning.

Con hứa that Hương and I will stay pressed against your side for so long,

we grow into the dangly gold earrings you borrowed for your wedding.

And I promise that this time, we’ll be yours to keep.


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