Leaving Thien Hau Temple
To load the bird with trouble—watch it fly
away for good—I’ve paid a man for one
brown sparrow pecking at its basket-trap.
(Dozens in there: if they all flapped at once
it might lift off. Imagine that relief.)
Pink tissue paper flags curl toward the sky.
I prayed for years but now I’m winging it.
The man’s cupped hand is feathered, beaked, alive;
the other one won’t work. On Nguyen Trai Street,
we make a desperate little trinity.
The squirming bird bursts out, takes one quick spin
above the tiled roof then loops right back
into the crowded cage. My pain smirks See?
(It’s singing now.) You’re nothing without me.
Diptych: Ho Chi Minh City
Like relatives waiting for a parade, a dozen
Mona Lisas line the curb of Bui Vien Street.
American Gothics, too, the daughter’s moon-
face waning above each squatting painter.
Shopkeepers trail us like children, shuffle us
toward water lilies, melted clocks, starry darks.
As if I were a masterpiece, last night you pulled
the sheets off me in one grand sweep. Let’s try
you whispered; then again this morning Let’s
and now inside me vibrates Van Gogh’s sky:
its glowing yolks and rush of swirling sperm
above a town of tiny people we can’t see.
Once a Mother
When a toddler fussing in his mother’s lap
howls red-faced above the fan and Saigon
traffic, the quiet woman wiping tables
reaches to the altar on the wall—framed
painting: young boy, red tie, rouged cheeks;
incense, gladiolus, jackfruit, rice, bananas—
picks one from the bunch, bows, offers it to
the cry she can’t stifle with/within her breast.
My Boy, My Body: When I Type I Always Mix Them Up
My son looks to the ceiling when they start his IV. It’s funny, he says, staring at a star nestled into a moon’s crescent: why would they paint it like that for kids when that couldn’t ever happen? He likes his surgeon’s straight-talk as he’s wheeled off down the hall. All of us waiting are cuffed with children’s names. The parents who’ve been here before have packed snacks; they’ve chosen the chairs that face the double doors. On the rack, a magazine asks What Would You Have Done Differently? The surgeon finally emerges with photos: the shadowed terrain inside my son like a moonscape if the moon were smooth. He slides a pen from his pocket. I fidget like I’m starved. With the tip he traces exactly where my body, when I made Luke’s, made it wrong.