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Straddling Convention: The Erotic in Asian American Poetry

Ocean Vuong, in search of the “new erotic,” guest-curates a portfolio of poems in time for Valentine’s Day.

By Ocean Vuong

7.

Story

If every cell
inside my brain
is replaced

after seven years,
then why can’t I
excise this:

he pushed his tongue
into my mouth, I sat
in my Catholic skirt,

(Philippe Leroyer)
(Philippe Leroyer)

the Listerine
and smoked cigarettes,
that tongue

like a slug
that turned
into my mouth.

My story’s an arrow
pointing back to this,
back to when

he curved
my palm
around his sex.

My hand hasn’t
grown up
since then.

My story
is a series
of pent-up men.

I sleep with them
and hide
my tongue.

In my chest
is a neon portrait
of the Sacred Heart

It lights up
every time
I am touched.

(first appeared in poemmemoirstory)

Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James, 2014), the winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize. She received her MFA from New York University and is the recipient of fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, Hedgebrook, and Poets House. Originally from Los Angeles, she now lives in Brooklyn.