“Dear Ba” ~ poems

 

Dear Ba,

Sometimes I drive past our old house, looking to see if it still houses all the wounds I endured there. The stifling silence, crowding of needs, the hand-me down desires. I can still hear the hurricane of dishes, your anger howling, the denial of longings. In my mind’s eye, I am so small – hiding in cabinets, under beds. Trying to contain and be contained. Aching to know the boundaries of where I end and the world began.* Wanting so much to be held. But there was no language that could translate then – no bridge to carry me out of the dark.

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

My love has run away to fight his internal revolution. And I’m left to wonder, if he will ever win the war over his soul – the conflict of his heart – if he will ever come back. You once told me the story about your cat. You were just a little boy, and soldiers were invading your village. You cried and cried as you left him, no time to search for him, to look back. Every night you cried – for his loss, your abandonment, his vulnerability. After the battle, when you returned – he was at the door waiting for you. Will I be that loyal, will I be that lucky?

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

Why didn’t you tell me that falling in love was like running, foolishly through a field of mines? Terrifying with every step – paralyzing with every breath. You never told me about the tiers of tunnels suffocating beneath the earth – where fears were born and died. Small hands and nails – digging on their bellies like worms – swallowing the earth. I have hollowed out these holes – in my heart – tasted the bloody darkness for my loved ones, who later turned foe. You never taught me whom to trust. What it meant to lie for love.

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

I’m never sure who I inherited my fear of being alone from – you or mother. You who lied to her to get her to leave Vietnam – told her we would come back – when you knew we wouldn’t. Or mother – who lost her entire family – her tears and arms as helpless as my infant ones, holding her back. Heartache was the first language I learned. Maybe that’s why I was the only one that could understand you – understand the pain of knowing she never truly loved you – not the way you loved her. And how could she, ever, forgive?

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

You were the first person to show me tenderness. You used to nap with me when I was as a girl, my cheek resting on your chest, your eyes closed, breath calm. I would fall asleep like that – smell the Winston Lights on your shirt – the VO5 slicking your hair – feel stubble brushing my head. Even as a young woman you still held me, as if I was a child, and I was, still a child. I will always be a child – longing for that peace – the scents as still and soft as after a storm. Sometimes I just lie on your grave, and let the silent grass carry me to sleep.

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

You never met the men I loved. Looked them in the eyes and tested their courage. Would you have protected me from them? Made them be good? Would you have unleashed your temper on them like a titan? Turned them into monsters that live beneath the sea? What would you have done if you had known their atrocities – how much they hurt me, betrayed me, tortured me? As if I were something to be sacrificed. Would you have torn your eyes out in rage, or shame, or fear? Would you still have been able to look at me?

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

Do you ever look down from heaven and worry about me? Do you ever wish you had told me every day that you loved me? That I was special, worthy of love? I wish I knew your regrets. The secrets that died in your heart. There are so many things that I didn’t ask you. Wish that you had told me. You held so much sadness as you got older – I could see it in your eyes – the way it weighed you down. And you were alone, in the end, in a bed of your own. I know it killed you, to be so alone. I wish I had told you, every day, that I loved you.

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

How does one defeat a god? When cruelty can split the earth and take the one you love? How do I suck the poison out, after my sweet has tasted the flesh of Hades’ fruit? Fallen prey to the seduction of his blood. His mind a swirling river – despair –a black pit in his heart. Must I dig and dig until my knees and fingers crumble? Pound my fists until the sky thunders with my cry? Must I die too, to earn passage into his world? Is there no lightning bolt to penetrate? No cloak to hide me while I steal him back? Is there no justice in death?

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

What happens when love dies? The physics is lost to me – the mysteries of black holes – the loss of light. The gravity when I cease to exist. Every day I eat a little less, in hopes that I’ll disappear too, from the inside out. My core eroding, collapsing into nothing. You once said that true happiness awaits me in the afterlife – I watched you fill coffins with money and gold. Would they bury my lover’s heart with me – when the lightness comes to pull me away – bury all the coins of hope I saved for our love. Would it be enough to escape the darkness?

 

~

 

Dear Ba,

Why does my poetry only come from such sorrow – as if there is a well inside me? Was I born with it in my blood, is that why it lives so deep? In Vietnam I saw your sad eyes reflecting back at me – your taut skin worn over weary frames. Saw the ruins of your past life – shacks between high rises – graves adorning rice fields. Destruction and resurrection. The wreckage of the future. If I were to dive to the source, swim the Mekong’s heart, would I be reborn? How long does it take to heal – to rise from the rubble – to fly like a phoenix?

 

 

*Excerpt published as part of the Coffee House Press Coffee Sleeve Conversations Poetry Project, 2017


 

Contributor Bio

Anh-Hoa Thi Nguyenis a poet, community artist, activist and educator. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College. In addition to journals, magazines and anthologies, her publications include “AS IS: A Collection of Visual and Literary Works by Vietnamese American Artists” and “Troubling Borders, An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora.” Anh-Hoa has been a board member of the Asian American Women Artists Association and member of the Vietnamese Artists Collective. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at the de Young Museum and Writer-in-Residence at Hedgebrook. She is a VONA alumna, Elizabeth George Foundation Fellow, and a Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant Winner. Anh-Hoa was recently a host for the Minnesota Humanities Center’s War and Memory Series, and a presenter for the PBS/MELSA The Vietnam War: 360 series. She is currently the artist-in-residence for The Floating Library and is a Lecturer at St. Catherine University.

 

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