Interrogation in a Nail Salon

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

                            crumbling field.


[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

                        wiped out

                        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. 

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