Memory a distinct black hole
1954, Hà Nội

Mother doesn’t know where to piss or shit

                  i her only son   tie her hands to the papaya tree in the backyard
                                 when she falls into her sputtering fits 

          afterwards when the Việt Cộng come     we hear that she’s delirious

shouting    mouth uncontrollable     like the cicadas’ drone

                       escape would’ve been impossible

                                       the police             the Việt Cộng after us like

                                                                                fire ants

she would’ve told the neighbors        everybody 
                                          had my mother known of our plans



the radio blares Hồ Chí Minh will take the North

i tell myself to let go let go of everything      let go so we can go forward 
                         the house     my parents     our lands 

                                    death’s drone wakes me up 

 thunder on trembling tin roof

                                the hum of never ending bullets through the eyes

               searches at point blank

                                                                             continuous shooting pulses

corpuscles of ammunition in their trained-to-kill blood

                                              bubbles of gunshot in the mouth

                                                             sulfur           swirling 

                                      a black hole of memory where everything 
                                                                     is re-membered 



Night the high seas


           a boat       vessel to another life


                         first to a dark island then to a larger boat    
                                                           about 25 five of us board a dark vessel 
                                      with provisions     for several days

                                                                        angel dust                 & gold
                                                                                                 line our clothes


after 3 days on the high seas      
               we see a ship from afar     suddenly    Thai pirates descend 
                         like hungry bats   rodents   vultures  with endless claws &                                  beaks

              a pirate wields a knife         jumps on my brother

a pirate jumps my legs pry them open          a knife inserted into  

                                                 the impact of the world  

                           how many pirates violate me

                                   i stop counting     i do not understand their fierceness
    such hatred        might of skin    
                                                         blood  & brutal desire   


the high seas brew black
                                            unpredictable    yet  compulsory death

                              a rocking boat   which does not give

                                                          blue of a sea  defiled
                                        purity       shaken

                      in mid-air   a pirate   struggles   forces my brother overboard

                                          suddenly   no time’s left  

  pirates seize everything:     our oars   motor our sails our jewelry & gold 
                                           what’s left of our food
                                                                         my brother   myself 
                                                                                                  our lives to come 



Shrapnel in heart

instead of fruit    
                Khmers    Vietnamese   &     Americans planted landmines there

limbless deaths   Pol Pot reaped

                                       and    so many walk without legs
                  prostheses    plastic  stumps    living around lakes 
                                                                                                     in Phnom Penh

                                  dust rises in 

                                                                             children like the ancient   beg

                                                         names written on skin  the elderly 
                                                                                             forget they are there



robed with sickness    jobless
                                                            they sleep around the lake with babies 
                              in their arms     
                                                        the dust heat & sweat their blanket          


                                              plastic sandals littered around the lake                                                                                              for their one remaining foot



                                                                   many years after the war

shrapnel still lurk in his flesh:  five pieces in arm
                                 two in his head         two in lungs
                                                    one in the heart



The Other

wall  still continues in us brought on by the war   walls us in

                              slithers    created many decades ago by everyone  

 long high vertiginous blocking everything in its path

                   not forgiving      demands all eyes on it     demands blood

a mental wall   of steel dirt   brick

                  bleeds    of panoramic paranoia that does not let the other in

                                 a wall of eyes   red & blue 

still continues   walls us in    

                                           all the abortions    




Speak    of  the coincidences 
                              by which we navigate 

                                            where the incisions
                                                                   by which were wounds?

the symptoms may be alleviated                 but the source still ails


                                                                                   body is mind’s servant


Mong-Lan, multi-disciplinary Vietnamese-American artist, poet, writer, Argentine tango dancer, visual artist, singer, musician, and educator, left her native Vietnam on the last day of the evacuation of Saigon. Author of One Thousand Minds Brimming: Poems & Art and seven other books and chapbooks, Mong-Lan's honors include the Pushcart Prize, the Juniper Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Awards, a Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, a Fulbright Fellowship. Recipient of a MFA from the University of Arizona, Mong-Lan’s poetry has been frequently anthologized to include in Best American Poetry. Visit:  www.monglan.com.