Inside Out and Back Again (6 page)

BOOK: Inside Out and Back Again
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falls like rain.


yet within ears,

within eyes.

Not that far away

after all.

April 20

The President Resigns

On TV President Thi

looks sad and yellow;

what has happened to his tan?

His eyes brim with tears;

this time they look real.

I can no longer be your president

but I will never leave my people

or our country.

Mother lifts one brow,

what she does

when she thinks

I’m lying.

April 21

Watch Over Us

Uncle S
n returns

and tells us

to be ready to leave

any day.

Don’t tell anyone,

or all of Saigon

will storm the port.

Only navy families

can board the ships.

Uncle S
n and Father

graduated in the same navy class.

It was mere luck

that Uncle S

didn’t go on the mission

where Father was captured.

Mother pulls me close

and pats my head.

Father watches over us

even if he’s not here.

Mother tells me

she and Father have a pact.

If war should separate them,

they know to find each other

through Father’s ancestral home

in the North.

April 24

Crisscrossed Packs

Pedal, pedal

Mother’s feet

push the sewing machine.

The faster she pedals

the faster stitches appear

on heavy brown cloth.

Two rectangles

make a pack.

A long strip

makes a handle

to be strapped across

the wearer’s chest.

Hours later

the stitches appear

in slow motion,

the needle a worm

laying tiny eggs

that sink into brown cloth.

The tired worm

reproduces much more slowly

at the end of the day

than at the beginning

when Mother started

the first of five bags.

Brother Khôi says too loudly,

Make only three.

Mother goes

to a high shelf,

bringing back Father’s portrait.

Come with us

or we’ll all stay.

Think, my son;

your action will determine

our future.

Mother knows this son

cannot stand to hurt



Look at Father.

Come with us

so Father

will be proud

you obeyed your mother

while he’s not here.

I look at my toes,

feeling Brother Khôi’s eyes

burn into my scalp.

I also feel him slowly nodding.

Who can go against

a mother

who has become gaunt like bark

from raising four children alone?

April 26


Into each pack:

one pair of pants,

one pair of shorts,

three pairs of underwear,

two shirts,


toothbrush and paste,


ten palms of rice grains,

three clumps of cooked rice,

one choice.

I choose my doll,

once lent to a neighbor

who left it outside,

where mice bit

her left cheek

and right thumb.

I love her more

for her scars.

I dress her

in a red and white dress

with matching hat and booties

that Mother knitted.

April 27

Left Behind

Ten gold-rimmed glasses

Father brought back from America

where he trained before I was born.

Brother Quang’s

report cards,

each ranking him first in class,

beginning in kindergarten.

Vines of bougainvillea

fully in bloom,

burgundy and white

like the colors

of our house.

Vines of jasmine

in front of every window

that remind Mother

of the North.

A cowboy leather belt

Brother V

on Mother’s machine

and broke her needle.

That was when

he adored

Johnny Cash

more than

Bruce Lee.

A row of glass jars

Brother Khôi used

to raise fighting fish.

Two hooks

and the hammock

where I nap.


every T
t at the zoo,

Father in his youth,

Mother in her youth,

baby pictures,

where you can’t tell whose bottom

is exposed for all the world to see.

Mother chooses ten

and burns the rest.

We cannot leave

evidence of Father’s life

that might hurt him.

April 27

Wet and Crying

My biggest papaya

is light yellow,

still flecked with green.

Brother V

to cut it down,

saying it’s better than

letting the Communists have it.

Mother says yellow papaya

tastes lovely

dipped in chili salt.

You children should eat

fresh fruit

while you can.

Brother V

the head falls;

a silver blade slices.

Black seeds spill

like clusters of eyes,

wet and crying.

April 28

Sour Backs

At the port

BOOK: Inside Out and Back Again
11.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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