The Understudy

Even in California
all of my friends require touch    

to get through winter.                
It’s true, I am waiting to be in love          

in front of the people I love.       
He says, I’m glad you’re here                       

& I want to cover his mouth
to warm my hands.        

Of course I understand              
how one would mistake

that earthquake for a passing train
but what do we do with the stillness                    

when after great change             
nothing moves, but his hand      

sliding a glass of wine
across the table

instructing me to drink              
with a single nod.

I bring the glass to my face                     
but don’t let a drop pass my lips.

Beside him, I am almost somewhere        
I’d like to be for a while.

To make him smile        
I tell him I am bad at sex.

To make him kiss me
I tell him when I’m happy

I go looking for things
I haven’t lost yet.


Copyright © 2022 by Hieu Minh Nguyen. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 3, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“This is the first poem I wrote after moving to a weatherless California from Minnesota, a place I had lived my entire life; and, for most of my life, thought that love, for someone like me, would only be possible if I left. I wrote this poem after learning that, sometimes, when the opportunity to estrange oneself from loneliness finally appears, after all those seasons of longing, after all that time spent preparing to be someone that someone might someday want, one might find themselves not bored, but rather, over-rehearsed.”
Hieu Minh Nguyen