“My Father on That Last Day of Summer, 1983” & “Morning Market, Sa Đéc 1981” by Samantha Lê published in Perfume River Poetry Review

perfume-river-5-1-cover1perfume-river-5-2-cover

I’m honored to announce the publication of two poems from my Vietnam series in the “Vietnam Forever,” 5th Anniversary double issue of Perfume River Poetry Review by Tourane Poetry Press in San Jose, California.

 

About “Morning Market, Sa Đéc 1981

For this poem, I highlighted the collection of scenes from the market place as representatives of a larger reality.  Post-war Vietnam, where the transfer of wealth from one privileged class to another had created incomprehensible poverty and deficit, was “the worst of times.”  People haggled over the price of one green mango and one liter of fish sauce.  A toy pot made of clay was considered a luxury item.  And when human and cultural survival is under such an attack, sometimes it’s necessary to pretend not to see the disturbing things right in front of you (just as the child in the poem pretended not to see the fly walked across the old woman’s eyes) in order for life to press onward.  By showing these scenes through a child’s lens, I remove politics from the narrative, making the political personal.  War is personal.  Hunger is personal.  [read poem, page 21]

About “My Father on That Last Day of Summer, 1983

This poem is as much a tribute to my wanderlust father as it is a tribute to the place that we both love.  Vũng Tàu on the South China Sea was once bright and full of colors, but now only lives as an ideal backdrop for daydreams.  Written as a blank verse, I wanted to use the structure of the traditional form to capture the rhythm of the sea, which was the constant heartbeat beneath the skin of all our narratives.  [read poem, page 23]

 

About “Vietnam Forever” from Vuong Vo, Editor of Perfume River Poetry Review

I have decided to do a double issue for our fifth anniversary.  One issue will explore Vietnamese culture, celebrate our heritage, and give voice to what it means to be Vietnamese.  The second issue will be a tribute to Vietnam War veterans and survivors, whose stories need to be told and need to be heard—now more than ever.  As there must be time for war and a time for peace, there too must an issue for war and one that allows poems to sing about Vietnam.  Print issues are $15 each.

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.

“To Myself at Eight” and “The Disappearance” by Samantha Lê published in Hypertrophic Literary, Summer 2017 Issue

I’m happy to announce that my poems “To Myself at Eight” and “The Disappearance” are featured in the beautiful Summer 2017 issue of Hypertrophic Literary. [Available online and in print].

About “To Myself at Eight”

In the passing along of female traditions, the cost of such inheritance is often freedom.  Mothers packaged their seasoned fears and self-imposed limitations into neat boxes, which they gift to their daughters in the form of expectations and wisdom.  Be pretty, they say.  Be quiet and demure.  Don’t be smarter than men.  An unmarried woman is incomplete, etc.  How do girls, born free but aren’t raised free, emancipate themselves from this inherited mental slavery when the well-meaning people in the lives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers—the ones responsible for their development into womanhood—insist upon oppression disguised as traditions?  [page 8]

About “The Disappearance”

Written in three parts, this poem occupies the space created by the aftermath of an event.  The reader enters the poem after a family unit has been broken apart, and as the dust settles the damage reveals itself.  In part 1, the reader is introduced to the husband and father.  Left and indignant, he expresses his anger outwardly, losing control on everyday objects.  In part 3, the left child expresses her anger inwardly, learning secretive ways to cope.  And sandwiched between them in part 2 are their shared memories of the woman who’s disappeared from their lives—wife, mother, buffer—leaving behind people who are just as broken as she was.  [page 30]

About Hypertrophic Literary

Hypertrophic Press is an independent press that publishes both books and a quarterly literary magazine.  Digital issues are $3 each.  Printed issues are $10 each.  [visit website]

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“To Myself at Seven” by Samantha Lê published in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Issue 46

I’m honored that my poem “To Myself at Seven” was selected for publication in the Spring 2017 issue of Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review.  [Available for purchase.]

About “To Myself at Seven”

I wanted to write a poem about being a girl, about how culture define a girl’s place in the world through gender-biased beliefs and limitations—limitations that that are passed on from mothers to daughters to sisters.  In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir wrote, “To be feminine is to show oneself as weak, futile, passive, and docile.  The girl is supposed not only to primp and dress herself up but also to repress her spontaneity and substitute for it the grace and charm she has been taught by her elder sisters.  Any self-assertion will take away from her femininity and her seductiveness.”

I grew up in post-war Vietnam, which makes the details of my childhood different from others, but the journey is the same.  I was discouraged and punished for climbing trees, as if in reaching high places, I’d get too accustomed to the view from the top. “…her wings are cut and then she is blamed for not knowing how to fly.” (Beauvoir)  This is a universal experience of girlhood.

About Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review

Partially funded by the Texas Commission on the Arts and the City of Austin Cultural Contracts, Borderlands was founded by graduated students at the University of Texas at Austin.  Since its debut in 1992, Borderlands continues to receive wide critical acclaim and garners a national readership.  Issues are $10.00 each.  [visit website]

“Second Name” by Samantha Lê published in the anthology Spring Mother Tongue, May 2017

Thank you Arlene Biala and the office of the Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County for putting together this inspiring project.

About “Second Name”

My journey started with the fall of Saigon when my family became refugees in a country that was once our home.  During the decade of waiting and failed attempts to leave, we wore many labels.  From the refugee camp in Bangkok to the immigration office in San Francisco, everywhere I landed, I was stamped with a new word for my identity.  And when I became an American citizen, like most immigrant children, I was given a second name—a new American name for my new American life.

I employed the poetic sequence for this narrative because it allows me to imply connections without making transitions.  The abrupt shifts in time and space show how memory invades the present without conforming to the order that we try to impose onto life.  And the form also speaks to the splintering aspect of an identity spread across continents and cultures.

About Spring Mother Tongue

In the spirit of the “My Name, My Identity” campaign, poets were invited to submit original works that honor their names.  Twenty-three poets were selected for this anthology by Arlene Biala, Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County.  Cover art by Trinidad Escobar and graphic design by Jerrick McCullough.  Books are $10 each.  [Available for purchase.]

The Boat People (Chapter 5)

After the intruder crept across our roof, Father became obsessed with protecting the house. Before we left for our trip, he nailed shut every window and door from the inside. His zealous hammering almost accidentally locked us inside. I wondered why we were still leaving if he was so certain that our escape was going to fail. When we finally boarded the bus to leave for Saigon, Father was distracted and annoyed the entire trip. His jaws were locked in a permanent grimace, which only made all of us worry even more than we already were.

We arrived at the meeting place the next day before dawn and stood on the sidewalk for what felt like three months. It exhausted me. The arches in my feet ached from having to hold up the weight of my body for such an unnatural amount of time. My head and shoulders were weary from trying to hide the humiliation of having to stand at the street corner, but I was told over and over again to be patient. If there was a slight chance that what we were waiting for was coming, it would change our lives forever. It was worth all that we had to bear.

However, I was soft; and the waiting was more than I could handle. I felt pain everywhere; it consumed my body until I could no longer think of anything else. I was convinced that the people walking by could see right through the indignity that I was hiding. The aftertaste of shame lingered as my family and I privately nurtured our own share of it inside our otherwise empty stomachs. Our private humiliation spawned a solid offspring that sat inside each of us—a heavy burden that prevented us from meeting the gawking eyes of passing strangers.

The only good thing about the insistent rain pounding on top of my head was that it kept the sun from peeking through to make us even more uncomfortable. When the sun heated up the city, the stench of baked garbage, pee, and rotten food permeated through the air to overwhelm my senses, forcing me to breathe through my mouth just to keep from vomiting. I preferred the rain.

As we stood there, one day melted into another. Every morning we arrived before dawn to huddle together on the foul smelling corner with no street names. Then every evening, long after night had covered our heads, we gathered our things and went to my aunt’s house for sleep.

After a few days of waiting, my sisters and mother were more relaxed due to fatigue and hunger. They didn’t look at him anymore, but I did. As I watched Father, careful not to make eye contact for it was a sign of disrespect that would not go unnoticed at a time when respect was sorely needed, I could see him also struggling to hold up his head. The impending sense of hopelessness was all around us.

I guessed what he must have been thinking; we were all thinking it, though we didn’t dare say it aloud. Was it desperation, was it pride, or was it just pure stubbornness that caused Father to insist that we continue to stay and wait? I would never know his reasons; but his will was ours, as it always was, and so we stayed. All five of us, out of place, wasting away under the street lamp like discarded furniture. We were the leftover members of a society that no longer existed under the new way of life. It seemed to my parents that things changed overnight, and they did not know how to cope. We were unrecognizable even to ourselves.

Standing there with nothing to do but think, I was encountering emotions that I wasn’t accustomed to feeling: indignant, ignorant, poor, duped, lost, insignificant. I couldn’t comprehend them fully, which brought about a sense of frustration that made me want to yank my hair out, just to have a reason to scream. The sweaty purple, nylon, cut-off shorts, which Father always so adamantly insisted that I wear whenever we went somewhere important, made me itch in places that I shouldn’t scratch in public. The shorts always embarrassed me. They made me look like a boy. No one else wore cut-off shorts. They were dated and unflattering. Plus the material trapped in all the heat and sweat, which made it impossible for my skin to breathe, making me reek of foul body odor. A girl should never have to wear something that made her look bad and smell even worse, but there was no way I could have told Father that.

The sun reflecting off the ground made me thirsty and dizzy. I was so uncomfortable inside my own skin that I began to imagine myself exploding into a million little pieces of red firecracker paper. Then ripping off my limbs, throwing them into the gutter, and rolling my body back and forth on the sidewalk until all the itching went away. My eyes began to swell for reasons I couldn’t articulate, but the shame of it stopped me before Father could catch my tears.

“Weak is a man ruled by his emotions,” was what Father told me the last time I cried while being punished. I didn’t cry in front of him anymore.

Each evening, the sun went back down; the streetlights flickered slowly, from red to orange to yellow. We all let out a small sign of relief. It was easier to lie to ourselves in the darkness. The streetlights illuminated the creases on Father’s face, where I could see signs of breaking in his grimace. There was a weakness there that I was not accustomed to seeing, and I secretly wished that I could bear the burden for him. He was proud; I knew it well. Though I, too, was proud, my pride had not had time to age like his, a dry Chardonnay in cherry oak barrels, fermenting and aging deliberately until it reached its brut nature. It would be less bruising for me to take the fall, but I was helpless. I was only a child and only a girl. Girls weren’t good for much, according to Father. What could I possibly do? I wished desperately that I were born the boy that he had wanted. If I were a boy, I would be able to stand in his place, to look him in the eyes, to command respect, and to help him protect his family.

It would be years before I could fully comprehend Father’s ability to take the bruising. How much carnage his ego had endured: growing up in a powerful, demanding, loveless family; attending school in a foreign country by himself; fighting in a losing war; participating in hand-to-hand combat; and being imprisoned in a concentration camp. All of which led him here, on a corner where he must put his entire life in the hands of strangers who were failing to keep their word. What kind of man would Father become as a result of it all? The only thing I knew at the moment was that I was touched and blinded by the small traces of vulnerability that I saw in him. It made me love him. It made me wish that I knew how to be heroic.

­­­­­­­­­There were discussions, expressions of doubts, during the first two days that we were there.

“Maybe we are at the wrong location,” Mother suggested.

She had a way of making her suggestions sound like accusations. “You did this to me,” was what she was actually saying. “All my friends are going to laugh at me when I have to go back home yet one more time because you failed us,” was what she was thinking. Mother was accustomed to certain things.  The war had taken from her more than it did any of us; it took from her the only kind of life she knew how to live.

Mother grew up as the eldest in a wealthy household. She wore the most fashionable clothes from Paris. She lived in a mansion, went to a French school, and spent summers away at exotic beach houses. Then when she had babies, there were nannies to care for them. With everything she had disappearing in one heartbeat, she was not equipped to live a life without entitlement and luxuries. As a result, Mother had become a victim of public opinion, worrying too much about what others might have said and thought about her fall. She was unable to comprehend that everyone else also had to pick him or herself off the ground. Nevertheless, she lived and breathed to keep up the facade. She was the last generation of the high society wife, always made-up, always perfect, always proper, but no longer with anywhere to go. The war took everything from her, and her young family provided her with no solace. Sometimes I felt sorry for her. Through my young eyes, she exuded weakness, a lack of self-sufficiency that I vowed would never happen to me. Mother was lost.

Father had grown accustomed to her silent speeches made with a subtle disapproving tone of voice and well-trained facial expressions. It had become a tango between them, passionate, yet controlled like the dance. There were only two responses that her speech could extract from Father: an all out, sudden eruption of anger, which would have forced Mother to retreat; or just cold silence, which would have encouraged her to move forward.

Like a snake, Father waited, ignoring the mouse just long enough to let the prey think that it was safe. Then he seized and devoured everything. However, Mother had chosen her battleground well that time. With so many strangers’ eyes upon him, Father was constrained by his need to keep his composure in check, which forced him to remain silent. Encouraged by Mother’s audacity and Father’s absence of anger, my sisters decided to add their own sentiments about the predicament that we were facing.

“It’s too late,” April whined with her high-pitch voice. “Everybody’s already left without us. We should just go home.”

“You never asked us if we wanted to come,” June added. “There’s no reason for us to stay here. We should go home. We already missed so much of school.”

They finally had a chance to speak up, and they took the opportunity. There were very few opportunities to express our true feelings without having to suffer harsh consequences. My sisters were teenagers with boyfriends at home to kiss, friends with whom to gossip, and social events to sneak off to. Standing there was making them miss out on all that living.

I could almost feel the steam rising from Father’s head, as he stood perfectly still, with eyes looking straight ahead. I could always recognize the signs of stress and emotions going awry. His face tightened without moving, yet he continued his eerie silence. His gaze was fixed on a woman across the street who was breastfeeding her infant.

“For her sake, I hope that child doesn’t grow up to be as ungrateful as mine. Insolent, all of you!” He ground out his words as if they were tough, raw meat and he was a lion on a feeding frenzy.

Silence followed. That was all he needed to say for us to understand that it was time for everyone to shut up.

My sisters, mother, and I let out the collective breath that we had all been holding since Father started talking, relieved and grateful that he had chosen to be brief and merciful. We had each been made painfully aware of his anger. Once released, it sought and destroyed everyone in its path, not just the one who had set it free. Even I—his youngest, his favorite child, the only one he still loved—had been ill-fated enough to get caught up in the whirlwinds, forced to conceal secret battle scars of my own under all the layers of sadness. Despite what he preached about having control over one’s emotions, anger was one of many emotions to which Father was a slave. We learned to pick our battles and rejoiced at even the smallest of victories. He had made practical soldiers out of us all. We lost sight of the war a long time ago; only the small victories were what kept us going.

That small victory had taken place five days earlier. There were no more conversations between us as we continued to wait. We had spent so many days on the corner that I was starting to recognize the locals and their routines. Father was no longer patient; silence was the only thing he was willing to accept. We were each forced to withdraw into our own heads, counting the seconds to when we could get out of the rain and sit down again. Father did not raise girls who sat on the curb like common street people and prostitutes, so we stood. We stood; and we focused on keeping our backs straight, our heads up, and our noses down at the people walking by staring at us like monkeys in a cage.

The rain had not let up in three days. My black, rubber boots were overflowing with water; my feet were two overripe durian fruits, wrinkled and smelly inside. Despite it all, I still liked my boots. Father purchased them for me at the “black market” to wear especially on that trip. Even though it looked as if we weren’t going anywhere, as a consolation prize for waiting and being an obedient daughter, he had allowed me to take them out of my tightly packed bag three days ago to put them on my blistered feet.

“In America, the children wear these outside their socks and shoes to protect their feet from getting wet,” Father said, laughing at me as I tried to walk with my sandals inside the boots that were too big for me.

Father learned about America while getting his medical training in Texas. He spoke English and French fluently. I found out very early in life that it was always the intelligent, well-educated men in my life, men like Father and his father, who were capable of absolute cruelty. However, before I realized that strength and cruelty were two different things entirely, I dreamed of being strong and educated like Father.

It distressed me greatly that I was already off to a bad start. I hated kindergarten. I hated sitting down to learn about simple things all day long that should only take an hour to understand. I had also been to English school off and on; except it was a futile attempt because I was lazy and couldn’t concentrate. April told me that I was going to be stupid when I grew up because I never wanted to study or read. I thought that she had already grown up to be pretty stupid, since she kept reading to me just because I told her to do so. I didn’t say anything. Sometimes getting the last word was not necessary for me to feel the power that I possessed. I liked things the way they were, with my taking advantage of her. I didn’t feel the need to let her in on it. Father had taught me that sometimes more power could be derived from silence than words.

The only thing that any of us knew about America was from what Father had told us and what he showed us in his old books and magazines. Father was determined to get to America whichever way he could. The people we were waiting for were supposed to pick us up and take us to a small fishing village where we were to board a fishing boat down the delta and out to the ocean. The rainy season had caused severe flooding, which was why Father bought me the rubber boots, to keep my feet dry and leech-free. Once we arrived in America, he promised to buy me shoes and socks that I could wear inside my boots instead of the sandals that slipped and slid, making me walk like a drunken person.

The people we had been waiting for had not arrived, and there had been no word from them. The only thing that we could do was to be patient and remain hopeful. The alternative was just too painful to consider.

“We have to get away from here, away from all the intrusion. I can’t live another day with their watching me. No one can make anything out of himself here. This government strips proud men of their honor,” Father said.

I let my father’s words mold and shape me.

 

listtel-sister_left_behind_web

First published in Little Sister Left Behind

Copyright © 2007 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.

On “The Hanging Family Tree”

samantha_le-locci2Sometimes, I go through the exercise of explicating my own poem.  I find that it sharpens my critical skills and allows me to look at my work more objectively.  This is especially helpful when I don’t know how to finish a poem. I hope that this post will help you with your own writing.

–Samantha Lê

The Hanging Family Tree
–by Samantha Lê

I was Januaried, Februaried,
Marched—father’s furious footsteps felt lonely
down the hospital hallways.

I lunged forward;
skidded sideways—wrong decisions made all day.

Father watched and waited
six extra weeks for a son— hung his hopes on the fillings
in a sticky bun.

Five fingers fisted tight.
Five fingers reached for his to grab. Ten toes upright
like frantic crab legs searching

for the sapient sand. Two eyes opened, absorbed the sun,
but not a son.

Father took
a crooked look and said: I know
what to do to you—

dressed me
in dirty drags to imitate a boy, taught me to love
boxes instead of toys.

My skin map shrunk like a banana peel. I took rice paper, ink,
wrote peekaboo parts to cover the pink.

 

“The Hanging Family Tree” employs what Robert Pinsky, in his book The Sounds of Poetry,  calls “like and unlike sounds” in order to intensify the meaning of key thematic lines and to create shifts in the musical effects of the poem. “In a way parallel to how enjambment is a place where syntax might stop, but pushes forward instead, the shift away from a sound may mark a moment when things might chime, but depart instead.” (Pinsky 87) Repeated sounds are used so intensely in stanzas four and six that their absence in the other stanzas becomes an important factor in the musical undertone, which creates tension in the narrative and sets the emotional tone for the poem.

The reader may not understand or even notice the differences between like and unlike sounds, but they can be experienced and heard when the poem is read aloud. The complex audible presence of likeness and difference in sounds helps to emphasize the key moments, providing the reader cues on how to interpret the narrative in the poem, thus, enhances the reader’s understanding of its meaning.

One of the differences in sounds comes from the utilization of contrasting root words. Even if the reader does not know or recognize Germanic roots, which are plain, short and stubby, from Latin roots, which are longer and more clinical, the reader can still intuitively hear the difference in their sounds. In this poem, German root sounding words, such as “bun,” “crab” and “sun,” are paired with Latin root sounding words, such as “Februaried,” “hospital” and “banana,” to produce a sonic distinction between what Pinsky refers to as “crunchy and soft” words. “While the phrases involved sounds that are similar physically, the sounds of the words, in a more figurative or emotional sense of ‘sound,’ are in contrast.” (Pinsky 88)

Given the many Latinate words, the first stanza reads more smoothly and thus reads faster than the sixth stanza. Compare “I was Januaried, Februaried,/Marched—father’s furious footsteps felt lonely/down the hospital hallways,” which reads liquidly, with “Father took/a crooked look and said: I know/what to do to you,” which contains more abrupt and choppy Germanic words, making the lines more awkward and difficult to read aloud. This contrast in sounds produces an inconsistency in rhythm that helps to counter the iambic meter.

The iambic meter, though not dominant, is present throughout the poem. It acts as the underlying pulse of the poem to move the reader forward in the narrative. One can observe bits of iambic meter in the lines: “Five fingers fisted tight./Five fingers reached for his to grab” and “He dressed me/in dirty drags to imitate a boy.” Although the iambic meter does not appear consistently, and the poem’s rhythmic cadences are not often iambic, an iambic meter can still be felt beneath the poems variable rhythms.

However, there are some lines where the iambic pulse is reversed, and a strong trochaic meter emerges, creating tension in the poem. An example of the trochaic meter can be seen at the beginning of the poem where the mood and setting is established: “father’s furious footsteps felt lonely/down the hospital hallways.” The trochee is consistent and strong again at the moment the child is born. Butted right up against the iambs in the sixth stanza is: “Ten toes upright/like frantic crab.” This subtle reversal in meter signals an importance glimpse into the father’s turmoil state of mind.

At the same time, words of long and short duration appear jammed together to further add to the richness of the rhythm and sounds. In the last stanza, “skin map,” “rice” and the first syllable in “paper” are examples of long sounds, which are wedged against the shorter, more abrupt, stubby sounds of “shrunk” and “ink” to create a stop-and-go motion. By varying the usage of long and short syllables, a hurried pace is achieved through parts of the poem, while other parts require a slow approach. The varying of longer and shorter line lengths also aid in setting pace throughout poem.

The poem’s emotional tone is not only produced through sounds, meter and rhythm but also through alliteration, end rhymes, internal rhymes and the application of varying line lengths.

The poem deploys alliteration, such as “father’s furious footsteps felt” and “five fingers fisted,” at strategically placed clusters throughout the poem that add playfulness. The harrowing subject of a discontented father who decides to reshape the life of his daughter to match his own agenda in the narrative is hidden behind the playful, child-like diction, which creates an unsettling lightness around a heavy and serious theme.

The poem also features ends rhymes that add a folktale quality to the narrative. Though end rhymes appear throughout the poem, such as “Januaried” and “lonely,” “tight” and “upright,” and “ink” and “pink,” the sing-song effects often created by end rhymes are muted by enjambments combined with the utilization varying line lengths. The strategically placed line breaks act as a counterbalance against the end rhymes’ overpowering sonic effects. The balancing act between rhymes and line breaks achieves in adding a complexity to what Pinky calls the “audible web” of the poem. Aside from enjambments, internal rhymes are also employed within individual lines, such as “took/a crooked look” and “skidded sideways—wrong decisions made all day,” to create even richer and more energetic sounds that are then contrasted against the expected sounds of the end rhymes, adding yet another layer to the audible web.

In this poem, the rhymes play a part in both the sonic and emotional tones, but like line breaks and enjambment, they also drive the narrative of the poem for the reader. The packing together of internal rhymes in stanza six: “Father took/a crooked look and said: I know/what to do to you” signals the reader with sonic cues that a significant point in the narrative is being discussed. This is one of the voltas in the poem where the father, though dissatisfied with the gender of his child, has decided to make the best of the situation by turning his daughter into the boy for whom he had been waiting to have.

The resolution of the narrative is also marked by strong sonic cues. The last stanza in the poem is littered with “k” sounds: “My skin map shrunk like a banana peel. I took rice paper, ink,/wrote peekaboo parts to cover the pink.” The consonance creates a hacking sensation when the lines are read aloud, imitating the sounds  of the girl’s emotions and identity being choked back as she transforms into the person that her father wants.

In this poem, meter, variety in line lengths, rhymes, alliteration and the strategic juxtaposition of “like and unlike sounds” are employed to create a push and pull effect upon each other, building the poem’s sonic tension, a tension which mirrors the tension in the poem’s narrative. The ratcheting up of tension drives the poem’s narrative resolution to the moment the young girl surrenders, reshaping herself to fit into the space that her father has constructed for her.

(“The Hanging Family Tree” was published in Pinion Journal, Summer 1011)