by Khải Đơn
[How long have you been here?]
From the airplane window, she saw dragon’s eyes
floating to sheeny green mangrove feet
its scales a rainbow mirror
dancing light on her mother’s mud wall
Time found its way onto the skin of roofs
she wondered if home remembered
or how it sheltered on the
[I don’t know your place. What does it look like?]
Her mother’s hair: the white river
Her eyes: the blurred pearls blinking
on heart-lace, staring plumy red nails
crafted waggling American flags
Mekong indulged infant cries, feeding
shining sesban flowers and bitter gourds
Children grew into wandering duckweeds,
intertwining themselves in laughter of joys
The sky was close from Forbidden Mountain
The Goddess sowed brown-eyed seeds
giant tamarind tree cuddled the clouds
little humans played hide-and-seek
A child slips into the mud mouth.
[Do you want to marry someone and get a Green Card?]
Her tiny nipples
a flood of silence
Wedding grew thorns on
woven green coconut gate
burning purple on periwinkle blooms
Her body melted
flinching McDonald’s yellow sign
cloudy face powder, acetone, nail polish
Phở broth boiled down particles of her night.
[I know a man, good person, you can marry him.]
She saw herself in the mirror in the corner
toilet of the restaurant at midnight in the
chlorine cloud hallucinating her cracked
fingers. She hid her hands in the janitor
uniform pocket so that any man couldn’t see
how her face was fading into the storm of
keratin dust—spinning manicure drill.
[Don’t worry, nobody knows about your past here.]
Answer: Do you know a service to change bones?
Her past was carved in them
singing through rainy nights
flood season, weeping herons
The Plain of Reeds whined
through teeth mark of rice.
[Do you send a lot of money home?]
Her mother sighed.
A hostage of borders picked shards of memory
and called it home.
This poem first appeared in Poetry's July/August 2022 issue.