by May Lee-Yang

In Hmong, many words begin the same way
But last letter determines everything
Screw up the last letter and 
                 Fish turns into salt
                 Horse into human
                 Sour into penis
You may like the word nyiam 
But if you substitute j for m, your word transforms into money 
Tack on a g for nyiag
and suddenly the money is stolen
A girl may start out as ntxhais 
But neglect the
and she becomes nothing more 
than the water 
left over 
from cooking rice  

This poem first appeared in How Do I Begin? A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday Press, 2011).

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