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Still, Somehow


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.





The Ranger


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.

Hieu Minh Nguyen was born in 1991, a child of Vietnamese immigrants. His debut collection of poetry, This Way to the Sugar, was a finalist for both the MN Book Awards and the Lambda Literary Awards. Nguyen has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Kundiman, the Vermont Studio Center, the Minnesota State Arts Board, and the Loft Literary Center. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Offing, BuzzFeed, The Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. He lives in Minneapolis.

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