OUT OF THE MARGINS :: When You Let Your Hair Down Christine

Vi Khi Nao’s writing embodies the currents and twists of desire, sensation, perception, language, and space. She is daring in her experimentation, yet very precise, even in the seeming flow and music of her long, grasping lines. We are happy to present this hybrid photo/lyric/essay piece, “When You Let Down Your Hair Christine,” for OUT OF THE MARGINS’ August post. We also highly recommend keeping an eye out for Vi Khi Nao’s forthcoming novel, Fish In Exile, to be published this November by Coffeehouse Press. Please also see Eric Nguyen’s review of Vi Khi Nao’s poetry book, The Old Philosopher (Nightboat Books).

Near Vinh Ha Long Bay




Let’s pretend to be grammatically hysterical for a moment    Let’s pretend that there are no          rules to how we are born   or how a sentence comes into the world.       The flowers from Whole Foods on my windowsills have desiccated to where touching one petal is like touching a piece of chalk.   When the flowers, these purplish things          ,     lean against the glass part of the window   I think   yes,    my one   neo-pleonastic    chalky pen (that flower)    is writing     her       pseudo-calcium-sulfate  thoughts   on the pane   as she leans     as she leans  like a historian  collecting phantom breaths    in the inauditory   ,  vaporous voices    of the ancient, inflorescent past   – an exhibition of voices –  her face an audience  absorbing the elevation of my shifting demeanor      when   my ex wasn’t throwing  soup @ me   or making me  a type of Nam Dinh   Phở to go  – she would tell me not to be afraid   to inspect the world closely     & here I am      gleaning      from her  wisdom    as one flower head    as she rewrites the phantom sentence on glass    this isn’t   a cantrip    a noun    This  isn’t    the highest pollution of desire    This is merely a quotidian    exercise in existing

More than tilting back,   I remember,       At night in my Providence apartment     while all stones huddle in the corner to cry alone  I

imagine this is how women cry, Christine   this is how

women cry   Into stones, they weep    I imagine this is how stones breathe: minerals pull back their

obdurate mantels  to allow a century to sink and layer    and some    how the words get there.

At night in my Providence apartment  I contemplate the difference between solitude and loneliness    When I think of solitude   I think of the evanescent   depth of the   human mind as  a  snowy, flexible connective  landscape       from the ligature between bones        cartilage  the medical dictionary  likes to call it. I think of       Solitude as the ontological cartilage      that  keeps the bones  of loneliness  and  suffocation from rubbing.

When you let down your hair, Christine,  my heart is not a  bathroom stall that you can flush down the water pipe.    I watch a leaf curl.  Watch the fever.   Watch the delivery of an exhale. So deliberate like prostitution.       Sometimes I wish the uterus could defenestrate from the window of womanhood  like a cat and land outside of my quasi-feline female body like a black snowstorm.

Sometimes falling in love with a married woman does that to you.

Sometimes when Christine gazes at me  all the oars of my ribs lift—

Today I feel sick to my stomach with beauty and aluminum. Aluminum is fragile.  It cracks, I wrote.   Washing whites   in winter is like having a personal snowcapped mountain made of bed sheets and lingerie before one’s very eyes.    The view,        what  a view.           Sometimes when I hang clothes outside on the fire escape     I wonder if the silk blouse  that sits  next to the cotton panty   blushes.   Perhaps it’s not the sun     or the wind    or the outdoor     it’s too much blushing that the garments,   large small,     petite and sexy ,    the real reason      why they get desiccated       French  The thing is    King David didn’t have to annihilate a life to get Bathsheba           he could have  exposed his vulnerable  Hebrew, the-second-king-of-Israel heart  to her    and let her decide if she wanted him  I mean what are the chances of someone not wanting a king?   If Michael Fassbender, hot    sexy    glorious, knocks on your door and tells you how much he loves and wants you, you drop your shopping cart, your tedious husband , toss your children in some corner of the universe, and ask Fassbender  out of 100 rooms which room to sprawl out  not your high soprano  hummingbird   but your eaglized thighs.    On  a Thanksgiving phone call to my mother,  my mother excitedly  persuaded me to eat more bell peppers,   more kale   more Vitamin  C   more Omega  3   & she  asked if I was lonely?     & I thought of  Ben Luton   who once told me he used to hear     really well   & about saying goodbye to Peter sometimes on  Hope Street  after walking home as soon as poetry workshop ended.    When I think of two tall men walking   I wonder if the space between their bodies         is a female chronograph          stopping silence, time,   and stem   whose  silence is a voiceless voice,    her stem  trailing off  between their tall legs like a  winter hyacinth  ?    Sometimes  it’s just  economical to throw her in the air,     the invisible woman that        exists  between the space of Ben’s legs and Peter’s .  And I remember  yes   there was  so much in the details:   Most people     just want Starbucks   to enter their blood stream   but all I want   to do      is take a nap with Christine

Sometimes when Christine       lets down her hair, sometimes when                she lets down her hair, it seems as if my                   nocturnal bloodstream were transporting private cargos of emotion across the pacific.                       I imagine this cargo as it makes its way out to the mouth of the sea, which is air & exposure. This shipment of emotions. This transportation of goods & delirium.  I think of Rilke’s marriage: marriage is protecting each other’s solitude.   I used to think of solitude as a member of the nightshade family    -dangerous  when inhaled mistakenly   –   I                         imagine Rilke isn’t thinking of the nightshade family, eggplants & potatoes, or of different bastions in this world: the Berlin Wall or the Wall of China.   I imagine that he means  the roof of my mouth. I imagine protecting.                Christine’s solitude would be the purpose of the roof,                        a sonic awning that travels and protects the vocal cord of Christine’s           existence: allowing her own voice and lunar middle-sphere   to breathe and occupy its own space.  Rilke’s solitude is Rodin’s formal constraint on clay     protecting a  beloved’s  solitude is protecting the fugitive material that houses the fluidity of her individuality   protecting  her ontological center   as her yet unhewn existence is cast into form    I think of Rodin’s form keeping with the form.

When you let down your hair, Christine, it seems at if she let down her Pansori opera house    and then I think of  how the world is made   of Genesis  –   that the earth is born out of God’s great orgasm  an orgasm that expands into a planet and that each orgasm has its own moon orbiting  its planets  and how the galaxy is one big G-spot   And I think the entire cosmos has been trying to make God accountable for her pleasure  his delirium   Astronauts have been going to the outer field of this orgasm   trying to capture God’s solar, intergalactic desire.  Perhaps I do not have the solar  energy of a man, but my moon   can make waves bend their  undulating net of motion and sea debris.  Perhaps  all love is  a bit hyperbolic  in writing   But at the end of a memory bank I imagine Christine   a lady bug and I   an ant trying to descend together the fiberglass boulder of a wine glass  – because the nectar   of the quotidian   – has minipleasure   in every bite  as we  shoulder to shoulder   watch the sunset of an oyster platter  flake into  a human mouth.   And I imagine  taking one sliver or  lamina of sugar   and use it as a makeshift ligament  to mend one of your six legs as you may have sprained it on your way down the glass boulder    I imagine that we might want to inhale an assembly line of twilight as it gets superimposed over each other over the millions of years    and so that I could lean Christine into my arms and ask her which bed   – the oyster shell or the lettuce as our conjugal station for tonight   and we would gaze at the   salad sky   with her aligned stars   of salt & bread crumbs   and close our eyes   while the Andromeda of  balsamic vinegar watches as we  fall asleep  my centripetal hand  overlapping Christine’s


Artist Statement:
Vi Khi Nao

Vi Khi Nao was born in Long Khanh, Vietnam. She holds an MFA in fiction from Brown University. Her work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She is the author of Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press) and was the winner of 2014 Nightboat Poetry Prize and the 2016 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest.

This post is part of diaCRITICS’ Vietnamese American Literary Series, OUT OF THE MARGINS, launched in 2015-16. The series curates literary work from poets, writers and artists of Vietnamese-American and Vietnamese diasporic experience. Our mission is to create an inclusive, diverse, provocative, ongoing space for voices and visions from this community, thus bringing them out of the margins. Dao Strom is the series editor and curator.

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