“Down River” by Samantha Lê published in The Journal

A young girl watched her big sister from across the riverbank as she threw their pet dog into the water, where he was carried off and drowned.

His rag body swung
into the swells
of her rage.

The big sister denied this memory, but the young girl insisted on remembering.  And though time marches on, it cannot erase this betrayal that has wedged itself between them once upon a time when they were both still young.

Big sister and I stood
on opposite banks
The phantom stink of water
coated the inside of our mouths.
We tried to gag it out,
but it lingered.

art-beautiful-beauty-1229771.jpg

“Down River.”  The Journal (The Ohio State University), Columbus, OH, Volume 42 Issue No. 3, Summer 2018, pp. 48. The award-winning literary journal of The Ohio State University, The Journal has recently had poems reproduced in the Best American Poetry anthology.  Founded in 1973 by William Allen The Journal has published prominent writers such as Carl Phillips, Mary Jo Bang, John D’Agata, Terrance Hayes, Lia Purpura, Ander Monson, Brenda Hillman, D.A. Powell, Jericho Brown, and Donald Ray Pollack.

“Phôi Pha (Wither)” by Samantha Lê published in The Journal

“Phôi Pha (Wither)” is a poem about old age, about being the only one left to tend to the dead, about there being no one left to send you off when your journey begins again.

no one left to burn spirit money
and paper houses
incense dust grows into ant hills

The subject of the poem remembers her youth, when she once was the “village beauty …body pink and firm as pomelo flesh.”

[…] she recalls
girlhood dreams the way a fictional
woman remembers love faithful
to an altered truth

If all that she is are her memories, then how is her existence defined now that all the witnesses to her life are gone?

grayscale photography of brown and black bench

“Phôi Pha (Wither).”  The Journal (The Ohio State University), Columbus, OH, Volume 42 Issue No. 3, Summer 2018, pp. 47. The award-winning literary journal of The Ohio State University, The Journal has recently had poems reproduced in the Best American Poetry anthology.  Founded in 1973 by William Allen The Journal has published prominent writers such as Carl Phillips, Mary Jo Bang, John D’Agata, Terrance Hayes, Lia Purpura, Ander Monson, Brenda Hillman, D.A. Powell, Jericho Brown, and Donald Ray Pollack.

“Fourteen” by Samantha Lê is published in Melbourne’s The Suburban Review #8

Suburban#8

I’m honored to announce the publication of my poem “Fourteen” in The Suburban Review #8, Summer 2017 issue.  Available now online.

About “Fourteen

The sonnet is one of my favorite forms—a compact love song that packs a punch.  In “Fourteen,” I used this traditional form to explore a contemporary subject.  This poem is about a fourteen year-old girl whom, motivated by boredom, decides to experiment sexually without grasping the magnitude of such acts or her own developing sexual powers.  [read poem, page 27]

About The Suburban Review

The Suburban Review is a literary collective based in Melbourne, Australia.  A quarterly digital journal of short fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry and art.  Digital issues are AU$7.00 each.

 

“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.

“Making Love on the Roof” by Samantha Lê is published in The Boiler Journal

I’m honored to announce the publication of my poem “Making Love on the Roof” Summer 2017 issue of The Boiler Journal.  This issue is available free online.

About “Making Love on the Roof

On a city rooftop, two people try to find momentary relief from loneliness by surrendering their bodies to each other—to the possibility of something different.  Away from the rooftop, the man writes poetry about a woman named Ruth, and the woman makes mock turtle stew; but on the roof they play the parts of strangers clutching to connect with someone in the world.  [read poem]

About The Boiler Journal

Began by a group of writers at Sarah Lawrence College, The Boiler Journal is an online quarterly that publishes fresh and lively works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from emerging and established authors.

“Conversations with the Diocese of the Desert” by Samantha Lê is published in 3Elements Literary Review

3elements-S17-coverI’m honored to announce the publication of my poem “Conversations with the Diocese of the Desert” in issue no. 15 of 3Elements Literary Review, Summer 2017.  This issue is available free online.

About “Conversations with the Diocese of the Desert”

For this issue, contributors were tasked to use the words “temple,” “yard sale,” and “visitation” in a poem.  In Biblical writings, a visitation is defined as the divine investigation or inspection of person’s character and deeds with a view to apportioning to them their due lot, whether of reward or of chastisement; divine dispensation of mercy or of punishment. (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)  Inspired by this word and a strange dream about abandoned lawn chairs in the desert, I created a narrative about a woman who goes to the desert to seek answers.  On a lawn chair, facing the dawning of a new day and a person whom she believes to be holy, she asks all her relevant and irrelevant questions, but receives no holy answers in return.  Discovery, after all, is only achieved through repeated self-questioning.  [page 47]

About 3Elements Review

3Elements Literary Review is an independent literary journal, publishing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, and photography. Please show your support by visiting the website.

“Cactus Dawn” by Samantha Lê published in Off the Coast

I’m honored that my poem “Cactus Dawn” is included in the Summer 2017 issue of Off the Coast.  This issue is available free online.

About “Cactus Dawn

This poem allows the reader a peak into the internal monologue of the poem’s speaker.  By structuring it as a stream consciousness poem, I’m appealing to the reader to take an active role in getting to know this speaker, to navigate between surreal images and memories, and then decide on what’s real and what’s imagined.  Finally, somewhere in that confusion, the speaker’s relationship with herself and with the man whom she woke to find gone is revealed.  [read & listen to poem]

About Off the Coast

Edited by AE Talbot, Off the Coast is a biannual online literary journal that aims to provide space for diverse and marginalized voices.

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.

Samantha Lê ~ Featured Poet in the Aurorean, Spring/Summer 2017 issue

I’m honored to be a Featured Poet of the Aurorean Spring/Summer 2017 issue, and that my poems “La Comédie,” “Tongue Tied,” and “Your Absence” were selected for publication.

[This issue of the Aurorean is now available for purchase.]

About “La Comédie”

A villanelle.  The refrains in this French form create a sing-song quality that contrasts with the bleakness of the poem’s subject matter: the search for relief from loneliness.  I made the allusion to Honoré de Balzac’s La Comédie humaine to speak to the superficiality of  social ambitions in a world where other more urgent challenges exist.  [page 60]

About “Tongue Tied”

The speaker of the poem laments about being devoured by her lover, yet she accepts it and goes along with it, continuing to insist on “nothing” until she manages to forget what she tries to deny.  [page 61]

About “Your Absence”

A woman waits for her man to return from war.  His absence is an oppressive presence in her life.  Haunted by memories of him, she spends nights reassuring herself that he’s still alive by combing through fatality lists for his name.  There’s a silent sacrifice and courage in the act waiting that’s seldom addressed.  When it comes to understanding the intangible subject of war, a writer must find a way to make the political personal.  Only one story can be heard at a time in order for the collective sounds of all the hearts breaking to have an impact.  [page 62]

About the Aurorean

One of New England’s premier poetry journals, The Aurorean, an Encircle Publications, is a biannual poetry journal.  Focusing on poetry of New England and poetry of the seasons, The Aurorean has been published continually since 1995, featuring the work of over 1,300 poets worldwide.  Digital issues are $3 each.  Printed issues are $11 each.  [visit website]

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“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]

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.