“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

__

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]

__

Related links

“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]

__

Related Links

“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

__

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.

“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.]

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.

“Last Bar in Okinawa” and “Home from College” by Samantha Lê published in Two Thirds North, 2017 issue

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.

About “Last Bar in Okinawa

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.

LastBarOkinwana

“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]

About “Home from College

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]

“Six Year Old Boy with Lost Tricycle Looking at Mural on Museum Wall” published by Quatrain.Fish

Thank you Quatrain.Fish for publishing “Six Year Old Boy with Lost Tricycle Looking at Mural on Museum Wall.”  To read the poem online, please click here.

About “Six Year Old Boy with Lost Tricycle Looking at Mural on Museum Wall”

For this poem, I wanted to capture the abstraction of the mural art in language form, and I was thrilled when the editor of Quatrain.Fish pointed out that I had succeeded at it in his acceptance letter.

This short poem with a long title was inspired by a workshop exercise given by Matthew Woodman at the 2016 Central Coast Writers Conference and the mural outside the Harold J. Miossi Art Gallery at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California.  [read poem]

About Quatrain.Fish

Quatrain.Fish publishes small poems, poetry of four lines or less.  [visit website]

“Reeducation” by Samantha Lê published in Pamplemousse Magazine, Spring 2017 issue

I’m honored that my poem “Reeducation” has been selected for publication in the spring/summer 2017 issue of Pamplemousse.   To read the online version, please click here.

“Reeducation” will also be included in the spring/summer 2017 print issue of Pamplemousse, which will be available May 2017.

About “Reeducation

The speaker in the poem is a war veteran trying to reenter civilian life.  Having lost the language of the civilized world, he’s “wordless” and sees everyday objects through a distortion caused by prolonged exposure to violence.  He drifts from place to place, carrying the images and smells of war with him—violence has a way of burrowing in and laying eggs.  My father fought in the Vietnam War and spent a few years in a reeducation camp.  I never heard his stories, but his silence is my inspiration for this poem.  I hope you’ll enjoy it, and that it’ll spark a dialog on the subject of returning vets and their families.  [read poem]

About Pamplemousse 

Pamplemousse, published biannually, was founded in the fall of 2001 by the BFA program at Johnson State College.  The magazine publishes high quality, forward thinking, innovative, and well-crafted writing in a variety of genres and styles.  Issues are $7 each.  [visit website]

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.