Sweetness and Rot

Four poems

Persimmons, chrysanthemum buds, lilies and mangosteens Art by Emma Cao

Vinasun 8:39pm 

Ask politely, taxi man
I’ll let you call me foreign.

I’ll open my mouth wide & stretch out my tongue,
let calloused thumbs drag over pink gums
& sharp knuckles crack yellow teeth. 

Non-native, overseas,
Taxi man reaches his arm down my throat
and tucks his verdict in my stomach. 

In the rear-view mirror there has always been two of us
the known and the unknown
riding along this temporary moment.


You are not your own

 From mother to daughter
I inherit crucifix
after crucifix.

Virgin Mary pierces her heart
with seven sorrows to bleed
the blood of the covenant,

mẹ weeps unceasingly at night, in the scent
of olive oil & balsam like Mystical Rose,
but joy comes with the mornings,

and I dance resignedly between
temptation & deliverance
for the sake of sorrowful passion, 

as these binding memories
promise me that I am
only ever a part of,
and parts of. 


Chrysanthemum blossoms

My mother shows me
there is love in waiting.

She brings home pink lilies
that have not yet bloomed,
and makes tea from dried

Flower head,
noble roots,
sweet aroma,

be gentle when you touch the soft petal.
Your skin understands first
that there is fresh air after a rain shower,
and love in waiting.


A Sanctuary in Coming and Going (Terminal 3) 

In summer, mẹ likes this
place most. For her, there is a warmth
that cascades through sealed windows
and solace in staring idly at white walls. 

           Don’t you know? A woman’s grace
           is carried in the shoulders. Hers
           bloom black and blue bruises hidden
           by silk. 

 Mẹ ơi, prop your feet
on your polyester suitcase
stuffed with yearning and
ache since last summer. 

           She eats persimmon misshapen with
           sweetness and rot, tears flesh from
           skin with naked thumbs, and lets the
           juice and meat sit in her fingernails.

In this suspension of coming
and going, my mother remembers a rhythm
in the shuffle of strangers, and recalls hope
she once found in dark tunnels. 

           Her sweat pours and eyelids stretch tears
           only in the lonely absence of light,
           as she mourns the ripeness of summers past,
           the going and the gone.