Confessional

Hieu Minh Nguyen

Maybe a bit dramatic, but I light
candles with my breakfast, wear a white gown 
around the house like a virgin. Right
or wrong, forgive me? No one in this town 
knows forgiveness. Miles from the limits
if I squint, there’s Orion. If heaven
exists I will be there in a minute
to hop the pearly gates, a ghost felon,
to find him. Of blood, of mud, of wise men. 
But who am I now after all these years 
without him: boy widow barbarian
trapping hornets in my shit grin. He’ll fear 
who I’ve been since. He’ll see I’m a liar,
a cheater, a whole garden on fire.

More by Hieu Minh Nguyen

Heavy

The narrow clearing down to the river
I walk alone, out of breath

my body catching on each branch.
Small children maneuver around me.

Often, I want to return to my old body
a body I also hated, but hate less

given knowledge.
Sometimes my friends—my friends

who are always beautiful & heartbroken
look at me like they know

I will die before them.
I think the life I want

is the life I have, but how can I be sure?
There are days when I give up on my body

but not the world. I am alive.
I know this. Alive now

to see the world, to see the river
rupture everything with its light.

White Boy Time Machine: Override

No matter where we go, there’s a history
of white men describing a landscape

so they can claim it. I look out the window
& I don’t see a sunset, I see a man’s

pink tongue razing the horizon.
I once heard a man describe the village

in Vietnam where my family comes from.
It was beautiful

a poem I would gift my mother
but somewhere in the pastoral I am reminded

a child (recently) was blown apart
after stepping on a mine, a bulb, I guess

blooming forty years later—
maybe it was how the poet said dirt

or maybe it was how he used fire
to describe the trees.

The Study

For the longest time, the only memories I had
of that year were of Little Billy from the third floor, floating
dead in the pool & how angry the rest of the tenants were
when they drained & filled it with cement
& how that summer, the unbearable heat dragged its endless skin
across our bones—memory is the funniest character in this story:
when I think of that year, no one has a face—the first memory
I had of being molested did not come until nine years later.
At first I thought it was a dream, a movie, white noise
summoning a narrative through the static—if it’s true
what they say about memory being a series of rooms
then behind some locked door: a wicked apothecary: her fingers
trapped in jars, her hair growing like wild vines along the walls.
Somewhere in this story I am nine years old
filling the loud hollows with cement to drown out the ghost.
They say, give us details, so I give them my body.
They say, give us proof, so I give them my body.
If you cut me open, if you dissect me, you will pull from me:
a pair of handprints, a nine-year-old boy, fossilized.

Related Poems

Wakeful Things

You should never put the new antlers of a deer
to your nose and smell them. They have little
insects that crawl into the nose and devour the brain.
—Kenkō, Essays in Idleness
 
Consider that the insects might be metaphor.
That the antlers’ wet velvet scent
might be Proust’s madeleine dipped into a cup of tea
adorned with centrifugal patterns of azalea
and willow—those fleshing the hill behind this room,
walls wreathed in smoke and iron, musk
of the deer head above the mantle. He was nailed in place
before I was me. Through the floorboards,
a caterpillar, stripped from its chrysalis by red ants,
wakes, as if to a house aflame. Silk
frays like silver horns, like thoughts branching from a brain.
After the MRI, my father’s chosen father squinted
at the wormholes raveling the screen
and said, Be good to one another. Love, how inelegantly
we leave. How insistent we are to return in one form
or another. I wish all of this and none of it
for us: more sun, more tempest, more
fear and fearlessness—more of that which is tempered, carved,
and worn, creased into overlapping planes. The way
I feel the world’s aperture enlarge in each morning’s
patchwork blur of light and colour while I fumble
for my glasses beside the bed—lenses smudged
by both our hands. When they were alive,
those antlers held up the sky. Now what do they hold?

Why Seek the Dead among the Living?

As hollow as a gutted fish, a hole in the sand,
a cistern cracked along the seam—

There is no filling such emptiness. And yet—

Stitch it shut. Pour and pour, if you wish. Wish and wish, but it’s wasted—
Water carried to the garden in your cupped palms.

Might as well seal an ember in a wax jar. Kindle fire on the crest of a wave.

Unbloom a poppy, reshut its mouth, unred its lips—
As if it hadn’t already sung,

As if its voice hadn’t already set all summer singing.

And the gall at its throat, the boil it’s prized for,
Hadn’t been cut and bled of its white sleep.

As if a child could be folded, resewn in its sac, and returned to its womb.

Haunted Sonnet

Haunt lonely and find when you lose your shadow
secretive house centipede on the old window

You pronounce Erinys as “Air-n-ease”
Alecto: the angry    Magaera: the grudging

Tisiphone: the avenger (voice of revenge)
“Women guardians of the natural order”

Think of the morning dream with ghosts     
Why draw the widow’s card and wear the gorgeous

Queen of Swords crown                Your job is
to rescue the not-dead woman before she enters

the incinerating garbage shoot      wrangle silver
raccoon power          Forever a fought doll

She said, “What do you know about Vietnam?”
Violet energy ingots      Tenuous knowing moment