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November 15, 2017 Poetry

Four Poems

Hieu Minh Nguyen

Four Poems photo

White Boy Time Machine: Return Policy

I know it’s cruel, but it’s history
                          the machine will say
as he holds you
               by the wrist, pulling you
                             away from yesterday.
History, a velvet rope
                             coiling around
your grandmother’s throat.
                                        You must
first wash your hands
             before flipping through
                          the channels
of grief.
             You must wear the costume
                          of fog, or rock
a starving child
                                       to sleep
before you eat.  
                                       You must eat.
You must run
                          in the other direction
                                       when time calls
             & here he is
calling your name
                         like a hungry bitch
& most days you are
                                       a hungry bitch
so you come.
                        To face the horizon
is to face today
is to turn your back on the legion of smoke
                        that gave you your good name
but what can you do
                                      with an ocean
of singed hair
made to drag you
back to shore? If you want to feel heroic
             try balancing
                       a teacup & saucer
on your head
             untying impossible
                       —ordinary triumphs.
Sometimes, to avoid
                                  a catastrophe:
the disappearance
of a limb
                       or relative, you must
make sure everything burns.


It already feels like a different world
                                        than the one I began
holding your hand—but it’s the stillness
I can’t ignore.
                                        You couldn’t see
              the landscape changing.
If what I am
              is a postcard you send to your mother
then you are the crumpled image of a plane
                           (flightless span of metal)
I clutch to my chest.
             How can I say it so you know?
Everywhere we went, you held open the door
                           but did not walk through.
You’re doing just fine
                                        you say.
You are somewhere between
                                                      where you are
& somewhere you’ll always be:
                           you did not mean to say—
you are trying to understand that—
                           you did not mean to offend—
Me?    I am charting the distances we traveled
on a blank white map.
                                        I am drawing the child
we could never have
                                        & I can hear its laughter.
I can hear it speak, void of any accent.
                                                      Static in the air.
                           It’s simple, really.
           You, like the other yous
are gone,            returned to the God of metals.
& if I were to forgive you (& I know I could)
who would be left
who would be left                          to forgive me?

Type II

Ignoring the doctor’s red call
                          I swam in the molasses-thick swamp
              of my indulgence, allowed the sugar to ruin

the picnic. The lawn beneath me humming
                          with little invaders.
              There are conditions if one insist

on knowing the secrets of my blood.
                          I know it’s hard to gaze at the night sky
              speckled white & not wish upon

the dead light, but I ask only for your laughter.
                          I ask for all the ways I can remain
              whole & not a vision with missing limbs.

Look at the trees blistering with sap. Goddamnit
                          look at me! Look at me in the old way
              in this new light.

Once I loved a boy, who feared, so much
                          his own sickness
              I never confessed to him my own.

Afraid he would turn, with his worry, my smile
                          into a knife—into a scythe
              covered in ants.

The Study

For the longest time, the only memories I had
of that year were of Little Billy from the third floor, floating
dead in the pool & how angry the rest of the tenants were
when they drained & filled it with cement
& how that summer, the unbearable heat dragged its endless skin
across our bones—memory is the funniest character in this story:
when I think of that year, no one has a face—the first memory
I had of being molested did not come until nine years later.
At first I thought it was a dream, a movie, white noise
summoning a narrative through the static—if it's true
what they say about memory being a series of rooms
then behind some locked door: a wicked apothecary: her fingers
trapped in jars, her hair growing like wild vines along the walls.
Somewhere in this story I am nine years old
filling the loud hollows with cement to drown out the ghost.
They say, give us details, so I give them my body.
They say, give us proof, so I give them my body.
If you cut me open, if you dissect me, you will pull from me:
a pair of handprints, a nine-year-old boy, fossilized.


image: Aaron Burch