One Night in Tay-Ninh, Việt Nam, 1952
Một dêm nhà bị bắn và có lựu đạn thảy vào. One night the house is shot into and a grenade is thrown into.
The translation is rough.
She doesn’t conceive of herself
in the first person or the third.
She never thinks “I did this”
or “she felt that.”
“in the fall, moved away,”
“ran to the store that morning,”
She is very young at the time of the attack,
She has no idea
why someone would shoot or
throw a grenade into the house
or why the family’s chickens
would run away only
in the branches of lychee trees
in the woods behind the house.
Her parents are unsurprised.
Farmers have always trained their chickens
to run skyward up tree trunks.
When soldiers come calling,
as they have for a thousand years,
Just like my husband and his brothers
face pressed to the deck
as the pirates
squabbled over where to scrap the boat
and how to divvy the spoils.
When I first met her, in 1983,
I was just a little boy,
and she was living in Little Saigon
in a one-bedroom apartment
with her children,
without my uncle.
We threw the pirates overboard,
she told my mother
matter of factly.
She carried a soiled sheet
under her arm
to the washing machine.
You’re not a baby anymore,
she said to me.
You shouldn’t wet the bed.
These are flight patterns, these dashed lines.
These are air quality registers, here and here.
These are indices of cancer, these dots, state to state, Maryland to Virginia to Delaware to Pennsylvania. Look.
He inspects houses for radon and mold, twenty years of home to home, watching the air up and down stairways. Once he found a colony of black snakes, three, four, five feet long apiece, living in walls between floors. He starts again: Maryland, Northern Virginia, Delaware, and Southern Pennsylvania form the Bermuda Triangle of American cancer. Why. Common denominator is the Chesapeake. Convection currents off the Bay route pollution. Pollution is a system. Cancer is a pathology. A crawl space he sees movement. Shine a light here. Yep. You got snakes.
This is the secret. The wind always blows west to east. The lady owner she don’t want to believe. One point five million sale on the line she says I’ll talk to the buyer, there are not any snakes in this home. The thing is manufacturing industries go center and east in cities. Money and waste move inversely. The rich live in the west of cities, the poor compost in the east. It’s Swiftian. Don’t want to believe? I’ll show you, lady. Look. The poor make good fertilizer.
This is the secret. States are spiritual beings. Debts of the spirit become tithes of the body. Whole cul-de-sacs, whole subdivisions, whole triangles: cancer. This is the great secret. Everybody dies.
Lawrence-Minh Bùi Davis, PhD, is Curator of Asian Pacific American Studies at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. He is also founding Director of the Washington, DC-based arts nonprofit The Asian American Literary Review. He served as guest editor for the July 2017 special Asian American poetry issue of Poetry, and his writing has appeared in Ploughshares, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Kenyon Review, Gastronomica, Amerasia Journal, and AGNI Online.