As boys, your father fed us fresh meat
from the lake, taught us to spit
bones into the fire, handed us each a knife
told us to enter the woods & return with something dead
& when we returned with nothing but our bodies
he assumed we failed, but what did he know about death
that we couldn’t learn, will learn from our own hands
& because you aren’t here (won’t ever, again, be here)
to cover my mouth, I’ll confess, out loud, my love, so maybe
perhaps, you will hear me & join me, here where the sun is sweet
against the water & because I love you, I will gut this distance
with nostalgia, because grief can taste of sugar if you run
your tongue along the right edge, so let me call your name
or rather mouth it, like when we watched your father strike a cleaver
into the neck of a hawk & fell silent, not because of the blood
but rather for the way the hawk’s severed body
took flight, leaving behind its head, a scarlet burden in the soil
& I wish so badly, I was brave enough then, to keep it
to tuck it beneath my tongue for these twenty years
because darling, before I came alive, I watched the world
without knowing what to look for, but I swear, it was there, again
above the tall grass, the headless hawk
still alive, still, somehow, flying.
In the movie the musical the play the opera
the white soldier leaves & the brown beauty kills herself
on stage on screen on Washington Street.
Dearest, darling pumpkin seed harlot
shimmy shimmy in your blood bodice, your sunrise negligee—
negligee, derived from the French, meaning, neglected.
Meaning, trip wire lingerie. Meaning, bandage gauze
Camisole. Butcher paper parasol opening beneath the knife.
Beneath the wife of contrails, spelling out Broadway, here I come!
He tells me the promotion means he gets to carry a gun.
My lover is gone. Replaced by a badge. It’s not a question of who left who?
but rather, how could either of us stay? In my bed, the red dust
cratered around our final departure. Our image spliced in half
by the blade of the horizon. He is gone. I am not.
Not a seam opening. Not a good-luck appendage
to hang on a rearview mirror. Not a ballad beckoning the curtains.
Not the end. Not now. Not here.
“Still, Somehow” and “The Ranger” are used by permission from Not Here (Coffee House Press, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Hieu Minh Nguyen.