“The Way to Cái Răng Floating Market” by Samantha Lê published by Bayou Magazine

Cai_Rang

The child rides on the backseat of the family’s bicycle and takes stock of Vietnam’s ravaged countryside after the revolution—its people and animals, its landscape and violent history.  “The Way to Cái Răng Floating Market” captures the complicated adult world through the eyes of a child—the humming poverty and hunger, the trembling of the land.  Geography is destiny, and this fact becomes the child’s identity.  She sees her future, and it is the product of a past that she did not help to create.

[…]
A stuck sensation—the way fish
bones dig at the throat—
the old woman sings water-buffalo-
herding songs and breaks
the topsoil with a hoe: a rusty tin turns
upside down, a clump
of clay drops to the ground. […]

“The Way to Cái Răng Floating Market” is published in Issue No. 68 of Bayou Magazine, Winter 2018, pp. 86-87. Founded in 2002, Bayou Magazine is a biannual, national literary magazine published by The University of New Orleans.  Writing that first appeared in this journal has been short-listed for the Pushcart Prize and named in the notable essays list in Best American Essays.

 

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.

“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]