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.

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.

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.

Type II

Ignoring the doctor’s red call
                    I swam in the molasses-thick swamp
          of my indulgence, allowed the sugar to ruin

the picnic. The lawn beneath me humming
                    with little invaders.
          There are conditions if one insists

on knowing the secrets of my blood.
                    I know it’s hard to gaze at the night sky
          speckled white & not wish upon

the dead light, but I ask only for your laughter.
                    I ask for all the ways I can remain
          whole & not a vision with missing limbs.

Look at the trees blistering with sap. Goddamnit
                    look at me! Look at me in the old way
          in this new light.

Once I loved a boy, who feared, so much
                    his own sickness
          I never confessed to him my own.

Afraid he would turn, with his worry, my smile
                    into a knife—into a scythe
          covered in ants.