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Swan Song

 

I’ve seen my father
swim once.

I watched him bow
his body into the pool

the way a swan
dips its head

beneath the surface.
He stayed under

for a long time.
When I learned

he was gay,
I thought of his head

emerging from
the other end

of the pool.
I thought of the nights

he spent with my mother,
how he held

his breath for a long
time. I thought of the time

he told me he didn’t love
me. I thought of Vietnam,

how it weaves in
and out of wetness,

the rain each year
a reminder of the human

and its contract
with the land.

 

 

 

 

 

Lustless

 

If I could open my mouth
like a little music box
and inside, on the tongue,
lie a horse
reared towards the sky
like it could fly, I wouldn’t
show it to just anyone.
I wouldn’t risk letting
them pry it from my mouth.
I know the myths
as well as anybody: the gift
horse leaks in the night
like a young child pried
from his diapers
for the first time, the wet
stains on the bed
an embarrassing memory
you forget until you are old
enough to know the story
of the gift horse: the men
hatch from the stomach
and set an entire city alight,
such that even the night
and its infinite eyes can
look down and see
the burning horse
who flew too close
to men, the wood
charring the air, the soiled
earth, like the wet remnants
of two human bodies
reaching deep into each other’s tongues
for the first time. I don’t
trust gifts shaped like animals.
I’ve heard the way some people breathe
at night and it made me want
to close their mouths. I think
inside of all of us lies
an animal trying its best to escape.
It wants to press its feet
against the earth. It wants
to be held by the air’s weightless
arms, the constant rush of nearly
falling, its soft breath whispering
something I can barely hear.

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Bruce Lee

 

In this sequel, we pour an entire continent
into his ghostly outline: stuff him with Asians

until there’s no way he can say he’s Asian
on the outside, but white on the inside

like some sort of tropical fruit—don’t
make me say it, this shitty word I’ve only heard

from other Asians. Use the phallic stimulant
in your brain to imagine, yes, a penis

snapped from a bouquet of penises,
and say it louder each time until you scream

penis so loud nobody else will dare
outshout you. Sing of your shame.

Let the world know you don’t know
the scientific term for this cluster of fruit,

which is a hand, which makes each yellow
penis a finger. I am a ten fingered

kind of person. I used to say I was Asian
only in appearance. I split myself open

and showed people that inside of me
Bruce Lee’s fist was lodged between

my kidney and my other kidney
and inside of that fist was his ghost

who told me he didn’t like being held
in his own hand, which is what happens

when other Asian people tell me I am not
Asian enough. It is a great burden

to carry Bruce Lee’s ghost inside my body.
I’ve never even seen his movies. I don’t

know the first goddamn thing about fighting.
I am not a finger. You cannot peel my skin

from my body. I am the kind of penis
you see in the movies. I will write

great tales about myself. I am not white
just because I can’t speak to my parents

in their native tongue. I am ghost-drunk
and stumbling all over, but I am not alone.

 

 

Kien Lam received his MFA from Indiana University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Day One, and the Southern Indiana Review. He lives in Los Angeles and writes for ESPN esports. He's also in the market for a time machine if you happen to have a lead.

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