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We inhale together, honour life

with burnings. Each layer of ash


a generation. I can almost hear

Ông Ngoại living across


the room. Perhaps he was always

part fire, part city, part typhoon.


And Mother, maybe you were born

to smell like something alight –


one life folding into another.

Maybe you were made to kiss


the perfumed throats of our prayers,

bruise your bones against the shadows


of our ancestors. You tell me

how we are from women who kill


their own hogs, plait hot gold

into necklaces. How your mother


buried yours in the yard, as she tried

to divine whether we were meant


to survive. You filled your chest

with black and white memories


that won’t scab over, drained tears

from your body to make space


for a child. Mother, I have watched

you feed your flesh to an altar,


hang your voice from spirals of light.

In your dreams, I never happened


and a jar of ginger crumbles to a jar

of black teeth. Mother, I have seen


how this nation expels you

from your body, makes you count


the places that might still love you.

Mother, let me feel the weight


of the name they took from you,

shake off the god you never learned


to love. I want to discover us

in this pile of glass, for this water


to mean more than what it has stolen.

Maybe we were made to bless


our wounds with every new birth,

hoard shame that we cannot outlive.


How we beg at the edge of a blade,

preserve our tongues with praise,


roll old songs in our hands. Mother,

teach me to fever through English rain,


collect wrappers and fold our griefs

into an elegy of birds and lotus flowers.




Gold joss paper flares and flaps

from the tin barrel. Smoke rises


in cattails. We quiet the flames

with Cointreau (Ông Ngoại’s favourite),


bow to the black mark left

on the kitchen floor. My mother opens


every door in the house, says

that should be enough, I think.


We bend the sun in our mouths, wait

for ghosts to swell our blood


with their singing.

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