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.
“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)” 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?
“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.
“Here is a lesson in creative writing.
First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
And I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I’m kidding.
For instance, join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I’m kidding.
We are about to be attacked by Al Qaeda. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away. I’m kidding.
If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”
~ from A Man Without a Country
“I want to see thirst
In the syllables,
In the sound;
Feel through the dark
For the scream.”
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
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.
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.]
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
I’m happy to announce that my poems “Last Bar in Okinawa” and “Home from College” have been selected for publication in the 2017 issue of Two Thirds North. To read the online version, please click here.
“Last Bar in Okinawa” and “Home from College” is also be included in the 2017 print issue of Two Thirds North, available for purchase.
A man, with pockets stuffed with stones to insure that he’ll sink when he steps into the water, stops at bar for his last drink while outside the ocean waits for him. This poem was inspired by a photo a friend had taken of a bar in Okinawa. I was reading about suicides in Japan at the time, and the idea for the poem came together quite spontaneously… and then months of edits followed.
“Bar in Okinawa” photo by William Karstens
I originally structured this as a long narrative poem. I built an entire life for the man to explain how he’d come to be in this bar; but through the revision process, I decided to discard the narrative and keep only the emotions. The months of trying to whittle this poem down to the essential truth led me to conclude that it no longer mattered to the man how he had arrived at this moment in his life, it only mattered that he was there and how he felt. [read poem, page 40]
This poem is about twin brothers, home from college, finding their old bedroom transformed into a gift-wrapping room. Perhaps it’s the newness of a familiar place, perhaps it’s because they’ve been apart and have missed the closeness they once shared, but events unfold with the older brother taking his twin’s virginity. The younger twin feels that he’s “made” into a man by this act and surrenders to the pleasure. [read poem, page 65]
About Two Thirds North
Two Thirds North is a high-quality, annual print magazine produced by the Master Class in Creative Writing and Editing at the Department of English, Stockholm University. Issues are $10 each. [visit website]