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Letters to Doc

I look up at the trees. / Like me, they have disrobed. / They have disarmed me

By Cathy Linh Che

Cathy Linh Che’s poem “Letters to Doc” is part of her debut collection of poetry, Split, which arose out of poems she wrote of her parents’ stories of the Vietnam War, and the lives they made in the US after their escape after the fall of Saigon. Connecting those recollections to her own experiences as a survivor of sexual assault as a child, the poems in Split deal with the enduring trauma of violence.


I miss the angle of sunlight
sliding clean against his jaw
and, Doc, I imagine him

a kind of vampire, teeth
like icepicks and a hunger
almost obscene.

I drew my heart on the glass.
It disappeared. I breathed again,
and there it was, an outline

of a dragged fingerprint.

A maniacal thrumming
worked itself through me,
my body a system

of highways
and slick ice.


In the morning, a bird’s
warbling threaded up
through the branches.

I watched as my voice
was pulled from me.

Tangled up through
the branches, a black
magnetic tape.

My voice played
on a warped cassette.


Doc, it is spring,
molecular and dense
and fogged and airy.

I want to be part
of the world again.

But here, I lie
on my back,

I look up at the trees.
Like me, they have disrobed.
They have disarmed me

like Venus de Milo.


How you regard me.

Yes, a rupture.
There was blood
and membrane.

?I wiped and wiped.

On the paper,
a brutal portrait of me.
There it dried,

a physical fact.


I think of the moon,
cold and bloodless,

a white wound.

It appears glowing
against a black sky,
the outer valence

of an unstable atom.
I want us to join
with something again—

the door unlatched,
my pants unbuttoned—
How do I rewrite it?

I begin as a child.

The paint is new,
the hydrangeas blue,
the house is blue—

?as a bruise.

Persephone had it right.
If you must go, might as well
take all of spring with you—

the unfurling leaves,
the dandelion seeds,
a strawberry patch

under the lemon tree.


You ask, What do you see?

At night, you appear
thin and ordinary, your glasses fogged
by the rain’s cold injury.

Doc, the air is positively balmy.
There’s a faint scent
of smoke.

You appear translucent
in my dreams. The radio calls
reluctantly. The air

positively balmy. The weather
reluctant. I wear a translucent shirt
hoping for your attention.


?I’ve lost weight
from anxiety. I think
of my mother’s

weathered hand,
the lifeline ragged
on her palm, her pointed nails—

the needles that snapped
in half at the machine.


Here is a mood ring,
my love of expansive color.

I have placed it
in the open
for all to see.

I am asking that you
read me.


In the front yard,
the grass crept sideways,
St. Augustine.

Birds of paradise
with their beaks

Pigeons evacuated
from power lines.

?My mother’s near rape
was a recurring dream—
then the stillbirth,

then the vomit
which poured from her mouth
into the sea.

I have swallowed
pomegranate seeds.

Doc, in the picture,
my cousin’s arm
is around me.

I stand with Minnie Mouse
pinned to me. My belly aches
in elegy. There were gunshots

and thieves. For years,
I was a nervous child.
who lurked around the corner—

when his fingers slipped under,
were we the only two awake?


I want you to define it.

when you say love, define your terms.
They slip. when you say
rape. I’ve positioned myself as one

who has been. There it goes,
around the corner
into the shadow.


In love, I gnawed kindly
at his thumb. Speech sometimes
sat in the room and glared

at me. The dark was simple
and speckled. There
was a humid hum.

He came inside without
my consent. I wept while
he laughed at me.


Doc, it is spring. Overnight,
the trees have clothed
themselves, blossom and cream.

I want to rewrite everything.
In love, my back arched
like a cat’s. The feeling

swelled, hovering.



Excerpted from SPLIT by Cathy Linh Che by arrangement with Alice James Books, Copyright © 2014 by Cathy Linh Che.