“Kitchen Ghosts” by Samantha Lê published in Copper Nickel

In this poem about mental illness, there’re two speakers weaving their thoughts together into one tapestry of consciousness. Mother and daughter shared the same narrative of shame and guilt as each started out as the inadequate caregiver who then became the confused, frightened patient. As the disease threaded its way through the generations, their history of pain and secrecy repeated itself.

[…] Your dough palm
covers my face and silences
closed-lid admissions.
Listen.
A history of mothers
and daughters splitting
into halves the way
of green apples.
[…]

Read complete poem at: “Kitchen Ghosts.” Copper Nickel  (University of Colorado Denver), Denver, CO, Issue No. 29, Fall 2019, pp. 128-129. Copper Nickel is a national literary journal was founded by poet Jake Adam York in 2002 and housed at the University of Colorado Denver. Work published in Copper Nickel has appeared in the Best American Poetry, Best American Short Stories, Best Small Fictions, and Pushcart Prize anthologies, and has been listed as “notable” in the Best American Essays anthology.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

“In the Presence of the Kitchen Gods” by Samantha Lê published in Copper Nickel

In this simple poem about limitations and boredom, we see a woman’s life reduced to the daily tasks of cleaning a house, but in the mundane minutes of that stalled life there’s still a glimmer of hope, for she dances when she sweeps.

She sweeps evening dust
off grout lines with the straw
broom that hangs like sadness
behind the old fridge.

[…]
The only time she looks
as if she were dancing
is when she stirs air into dirt.
[…]

Read complete poem at: “In the Presence of the Kitchen Gods.” Copper Nickel (University of Colorado Denver), Denver, CO, Issue No. 29, Fall 2019, pp. 130. Copper Nickel is a national literary journal was founded by poet Jake Adam York in 2002 and housed at the University of Colorado Denver. Work published in Copper Nickel has appeared in the Best American Poetry, Best American Short Stories, Best Small Fictions, and Pushcart Prize anthologies, and has been listed as “notable” in the Best American Essays anthology.

Photo by Steve Rybka on Unsplash

Delusion

poem by Samantha Lê, music by Ryan Loyd

woman looking at sea while sitting on beach

Delusion

Carried a single branch inside my river,
downstream through milky lashes,
tattooed lips and deceitful thighs.
We are unreliable and cruel like the water.
Carried you into goodbye fingers
of spicy savage lickers…  carried you
like a burden… like a shameful secret.
You are the life, and I am the delusion.

Do you know me, or I, you?
The irresistible melancholy of the miracles
that have soiled the currents ruptures
like stardust above the greatest cycle of life.

Time will eventually trot away
like dogs on parade. Love will scorn
like the mundane minutes of a lifeless day.
Without the right words to say,
the right hip sway, I am not
the right person to convince you to stay.
I can only promise you that I will hate you
just as much as I love you today.

~ by Samantha Lê
With a special thank you to Mr. Ryan Loyd, friend and fellow 312.
__

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.

 

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

__

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

__

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

__

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

__

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

__

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.

 

Mary Jane

Oh, Mary Jane,
your bitter, sweet taste
still lingers
in my mouth, as you curl
and dance from my drunken lips.

Your shapeless tongue licks
and tickles my nose,
like a saxophone reed
that vibrates sadly
inside this Paris tunnel,
on a sticky
August evening.

I hang on to you,
just to breathe you,
like the Lizard King breathed
poetry, like Elvis breathed
immortality;

not freely, but
in harsh,
sudden,
wonderful bursts
of ecstasy,
as you burn;

and oh,
how you burn,
and scratch
at the walls of my throat…
a poisonous angel, your wings scrape
across my brain.

We stroll among Kings tonight,
Kings who tumbled,
and laughed, and screamed
in this very tunnel,

but breath
no more.

~ by Samantha Lê

__

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.

Fresno Burning

…round, and round,
and round again… summer
drips from the cracks
and hinges of our rented
doors and windows,
like runny ice cream between
chubby, greedy fingers.

… round,
and round… the air inside
our apartment swells
with pregnant heat,
even the fan labors
as it turns…
…round, and round,
and round again.

…up and down, over
and under… the air curls
itself around
the burgundy futon
where I nuzzle
my sweaty head
against your tired shoulder.

…round, and round,
and round again…

…above our black and white
television and its home-
made rabbit ears, a queen
spider hung herself.
Our crippled kitchen table
slouches a little lower
to mourn her death…

Outside, your Detroit-born,
100-percent steel carcass
remains comatose
under the San Joaquin Valley sun.

…round, and round,
and round again…
even the vultures are too hot
to hover today
…round, and round…
five years have
digested one another
and the old, rusty Camaro
has slowly shed
all its extra nuts and bolts.
It now refuses to travel any further
than the local supermarket,
and on a good day back…
and round again.

~ by Samantha Lê

__

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.