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Bearing the double burden of survival and remembrance, Diana Khoi Nguyen’s stunning debut collection Ghost Of boldly explores loss, silences, and empty spaces. At the core of Nguyen’s poems is the haunting absence of her brother, lost to suicide. How does one convey the weight of the inarticulable in the language of grief? The outline of her brother’s presence reemerges at multiple junctures—as an apparition, as static, as a form of displacement—throughout the collection; poems are shaped into his silhouette, as though to give physical form to his invisibility. Nguyen embraces the fragmentary as a mode in itself, using it to think through rupture and remembrance, exile and existence.

 
 
 

A Woman May Not Be a Safe Place

Melzack isolated young dogs from birth, protecting them from any painful
stimuli, until he himself began exposing them to burns, to pricks—the
dogs didn’t understand the source of these sensations and were
surprisingly mute, struggling to figure out how to protect themselves
from further attack
A god let my mother suffer in Vietnam, now we go on suffering after her
She shot a man, one that she knew, that was during the War, so there could
have been others
A lover once pushed me into a ditch so he could help me up again—I was
curious if you would cry

The mother met the father out West, after they had rejected adopting names
for themselves like Sharon or Sam, after they’d heard in church (the only
time they went) that too much salt would make an infant’s flesh too firm
“Remarkably,” the American doctor said to the mother, “you have a sodium
deficiency”
Did my mother’s son feel harm before he knew the name for it?
We tell ourselves and each other stories to help us understand the what and
the why
Not all women do these things
Not all brothers do these things
When I was born, my parents put me on a rug on the ground and stood
staring at me until the light outside dimmed and then there in the
darkening we three were quiet for a while
 
 
Triptych

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“A Woman May Not Be a Safe Place” and “Triptych” reprinted from Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen. Copyright © 2018 by Diana Khoi Nguyen. Used with permission of the publisher, Omnidawn Publishing. All rights reserved.

Diana Khoi Nguyen is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Denver. Her poems appear in Poetry, American Poetry Review, PEN America, Boston Review, and elsewhere. Her debut collection of poems, Ghost Of, is forthcoming from Omnidawn in April 2018.

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