Second Name

1.

When the revolution ended,
history was rewritten.
The victor penned Sài Gòn
her second name—
her boulevards relabeled,
buildings gutted, new
monuments erected,
and a yellow star dipped
in blood unfurled
above her rooftops—
but those who loved her,
will always love
her as Sài Gòn. To those
who conquered her,
she became the Other.

 

2.

When history was rewritten,
I had just learned to walk.
In Sa Đéc, they called me
bourgeois enemy. Nine years of silent
disobedience. Waiting.
I learned the cost of freedom.
At Phanat Nikhom they tagged
me refugee. In blind, immigration
lines across a foreign continent,
they stamped my chest alien.
Seven years with a new tongue
before America certified
me her citizen. I carried
on my person the baggage
of a second name
for my second self, finding
small remembrances in the kitchens
of old San José: salty clay pot
catfish, bitter melon soup,
and sweet jasmine rice.
A splash of nước mắm added
homesickness to every bite.

 

3.

When I returned to Sài Gòn,
they classified me Việt Kiều
that emotional limbo
between native and foreigner.
Names and labels inked
my passport pages. Not one of us,
they claimed. Aren’t I
Lê Mỹ Huyền Trân—
con rồng cháu tiên?
Four words that stretch
like a river back
to the beginning. Its source,
ancient cave trickles.
Its bed, stinky black mud
where lotus roots burrow.
Its mouth, the roar of typhoons.
My river dammed, rerouted
each time I was rewritten,
but I’m no Other.

~ by Samantha Lê

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First published in Spring Mother Tongue

Copyright © 2017 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

My Father’s Son

Your brown and raisin foot is watching me.
It mocks my innocence and naiveté;
it kicks and pokes and jabs and pinches me,
with every move it labors bitterly.
It speaks in a stranger’s tongue, so wise and old,
the tongue of someone who has tasted gold,
but swallowed dirt instead, and never told
of pain and misfortune life could hold.

My brown and raisin foot once smooth and pale,
now cracked and aged with crooked dirty nails—
it tells your tales of forgotten cities:
strange women, crowded streets and darkened alleys;
of women who put this very foot and nails
into their mouths and moaned with ecstasy.

~ by Samantha Lê

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First published in Corridors

Copyright © 2001 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

From the Platform on First Street

a dispassionate rain sprinkles colors
onto glassy morning tracks
faded creatures in shapes of blue and sleeplessness—going

gone the warning whistles of the watchful conductor           gone
the smoke that caught the wind
and stained the air

~ by ​Samantha Lê

First published in the anthology Invention: Poems that Celebrate Who We Are and What We Do in Silicon Valley, a “Poetry on the Move” Contest, Spring 2012

Copyright © 2011 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

Yellow Fruit Bowl

Your half eaten apple lies
rotten—
a mutilated carcass—
in our yellow fruit bowl.
I can’t throw it out,
this oxygen-infested fruit,
because you still breathe
within it.

And I haven’t picked the fruits
like you’ve asked me;
your sun-burn
apples and oranges still hang limply
from their branches in our yard;
waiting…
as I wait,
for your hands.

Eighty-seven fruits
still breathing,
still living,
though you’re gone.

The trees outside have shed
ninety-four leaves today.
Inside my head,
countless summers
have collapsed
upon one another—yet I am still here,
still breathing—

since this afternoon
when I laid your body
among the roots of those fruit trees,
and kissed your smile good-bye.

The earth, and all her warm sorrows,
she gets to hold you now.
And I am still here,

still emptied,
still breathing,
still living
though you’re gone…

 

~ by Samantha Lê

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First published in Corridors

Copyright © 2001 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

Dear Husband

She is your daughter.
Your tongue flaps,
like a catfish dragged
from muddy water
on pointed hook,
between her iron jaws.
Jaws that snap shut
into the flat line
of your EKG the day
your hairy heart stopped.
Each time she smiles your cigarette-
stained teeth grind me in the face,
daring me to hold her gaze.
She spits curses, anger
and obscenities; your words,
like anvils, still pounding
upon my weary head.
Your coal-like eyes accusing
from beneath those lashes—
still aware of my every thought.
She bare your crooked nose,
your wicked words, your twisted
thoughts, and hammer hand.
It is your snake-skin palm
across my face,
once—
and again.

~ by Samantha Lê

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First published in Corridors

Copyright © 2001 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

Searching for Religion in Iced Tea

I.

The voice of god stomps through centuries
and blood baths—like persistent wild
flowers sprouting through the cracks
of fallen civilizations—

to reach my ears.  It is as soothing
as a summer afternoon in the
Arizona desert—with naked skin charred
and scorched by blades of sun.

His holy third eye blinks
to reveal gray caterpillar lashes that poke
the sky to beckon shapeless clouds,
leaps of faith, and poetry.

His bone-dry toes are crammed
inside crushed velvet slippers,
like crocodile heads resting
on goose feather pillows.

The shadows of his rubber band fingers dance
on the white walls of my ice cubes,
as drunken strippers slither
on hot, oily floors.  On my back,

I search for familiar faces
in the faceless clouds
only to discover my own reflection,
only to find my own ugliness…

 

II.

With broken wings and untie shoes, a headless
ostrich sprints across the Australian desert
and explodes inside my head.
I have arrived!

I am the intestine of a gigantic snake
after he has just swallowed a chicken whole:
all feathery, slimy and full.
I am nothing.

I am the dog that wags its tail at strangers.
I must wear my plate across my chest
to remember my Master’s name.
I remove my head

and rest it safely in the secret place
where all lost gray socks must go to die.
Then lay my sweaty body on wings of butterflies
and grin at god.

~ by Samantha Lê

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First published in Corridors

Copyright © 2001 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.