Bad Survivalist: Tam Nguyen’s attempted poem “2020’s Impressions”

Heavy Feather Review

Halfway through the year of 2020

1

About the flood season in 1978:

My father’s boat was traveling to the drylands in the far South to collect some edible grass for the starving cows at home. The river was narrow enough for the melaleuca arms to remind him of guerrillas’ sneaky talks and gunfire.

It was a few years after the fall of Kien Phong’s provincial Department of Administration in 1975. Local kids were smashing up whatever destroyable, not knowing the Viet Cong were sound asleep inside the already shattered building. It was the Independence Day with some kids pricing their hardship, some weary soldiers dreaming upon fragmentations.

In fact, hardship can be delusional. My father saw some toads jumping on nameless coffins hanging above the water and mistook them for ghosts. He named his first son “Giang” after “river” for the sake of sanity.

2

About bowing:

My friend’s…

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UNCONFIRMED LOVERS WHO ACT ACCORDING TO THE COLORS OF THE SKY

"it is hard to believe when I'm with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it"
— Frank O'Hara

because smoke flowing out from
your mouth reminds me of how
we made a fire out of cheeks, and
the guitar’s howls that echoed
upon the pitch-black valley in
pine needled city. such idea is
solemn and still, like the moment
I found that used condom lying
beneath your bathroom door, still
and solemn. there were actions
before we knew what we are, and
no ideas what we’ve become. even
before becoming, what we always
did was to act according to the
colors of the sky: black is when my
dry lips mounting on your plain
forehead, while blue is when my arms
over your torso during the road trip,
and orange means your puffs and
mine becoming indistinguishable;
and since puffs equal to exhalation,
and exhalation equals to unsaid words,
we said nothing, and therefore still
no ideas what we’ve become after
city, after fire, after skin, after
solemnity, after us, and even the sky.


Saṃsāra

1

to find a way back, he clings on
his name.

2

the little dog’s drowning in a basin.

inside the basin held a pitch black night.

the pitch black night
held the dog vomiting
rain onto the ground.

the rain then became
her mournful barks,
then the barks became his name.

and his name became the father’s
ideology to love his sons.

3

the older brother was no van Gogh,

but father sliced his ear off
with a kitchen knife —

to help him learn to listen.

the younger one
still having both of his ears.

van Gogh becomes his name.

4

the kitchen knife has become his name,
the drowning dog has become his name,

he mounts the syllables onto
the inside of his head.

until the skull bursts open,
a mixture of rain and basin water
and dog’s piss pouring out
until it’s enough to
fill up the scar today
and the scar tomorrow.

5

all he could do is to cling on it
to find a way back —
the name’s become an eternity.
the father is an eternity.

WHAT IT TAKES

One way to learn about love, what it takes, is through how your brother and his wife feed their baby.

She barely sucks the warm liquid flowing from the inside of her mother, but there is a pumping machine attached to her breasts. That way, the milk can be measured to its very ounces.

She carefully fills the bottles with pumped milk. Then another machine is used to keep them warm, until the child is ready to be fed. Meanwhile, the baby girl would often be sound asleep in her singing carriage,

until she wakes up, forgets about the mother’s breasts and forgets her tongue.

I used to have bottles, too, filled with the water splashing out from a large basin when he tried to drown my 3-month-old dog, for her didn’t stop barking in a dark, stormy evening. Then, what it takes to learn about love are the dog’s howls and basin’s water, because my mom always fed me with her breasts.

Neither did I forget about my tongue,

for my tongue was once my mother’s, she was on her knees, begging her God for something else to end up in her womb, but that something remembers her tongue, her breasts, the dog, a halfway-traveled prayer,

and even her God; unexpected —

what it takes for love to be learnt.

YOUR NIGHTGOWN IN BLUE

On one of the four walls
was a door.
I walked through that door,
& arrived at another four-wall.
One of those walls also had a door,
(With either mom or dad behind it),
A spinning ventilator next to it,
& a piece of shit that stained dry.

Here in your nightgown I dressed,
the one you wore when your head pressed against the wall,
& your cheeks turning pale —
I thought they matched so well with the blue of your dress;
How funny…

& that night I was in your gown,
his hand bulged some big blue lines,
some black, green & yellow wires growing out of it —
Those colors kissed my arms & merely red they’d become.
From that, I learnt our flesh could change colors
depending on what kind of sin we bear with us;
Yet mine was so red,
& it didn’t fit the blue gown of yours —

I lit up a cigarette, soaking wet & half-burnt,
should be peed on by that man, who’s always pissed off.
I dragged a long puff,
& let parts of my body out through a trembling mouth,
by sneaking into those whirling propellers,
They could at least retain their whiteness
elsewhere;
At least not in this room,
where walls are shat & doors are shut,
& not even your nightgown
in blue.

MOUNTAINS

3:00 PM
Inside the rubber plantation
leaf rubbing against one another
like fragments of ghostly bullets piercing holes
onto nameless bodies
(*a piece of broken memory)

8:00 PM
Iced moon and snowing stars make
one’s breath illuminate
half a box of cigarettes already fades
into mountain clouds

10:00 PM
Under the blanket made of Venus’ eyes
& a mundane mind
The way
a son big spoons
the ancient tree
filled with his own blood;

The way
A dominant goes deep into the flesh
just to feel protected;
The way
a whole city scrammed into the pine needle
& Bach’s Prelude No.1
repeats only its four first measures.

It’s called warmth;
& swallowing the future
we dive.

DANCING TO SLEEP

On April 19, 2020, a friend of mine, a young visual artist and writer, committed suicide and passed away. She’s been suffering from severe bipolar disorder before she decided to take her life.

my dear
you are safe
you are safe
so you can be anything:
mythical pine forests
whispering lakes
or even the sun rises
and sets in circles
you name it
because you are
but finer and enough
now there’d be no need for
twice burnt cannabis
scrolling in hand-torn
parchment paper on
your dry lips because
you are found
you are found under the
monsoon rain of Saigon
through the small window
of your studio where
white sunrays leaking
from your hair
bare and divine
falling back to earth now
you can be anything
anything but the “crazy girl”
whose tangerine shadows
are bright and she is
dancing herself to sleep
on a friday evening
at 10 o’clock
and still hanging
on my bedroom’s wall
smelling like chips
and hot seafood tacos
but you are the jarred ashes
but you are safe
you are safe
because worse than
a nasty taco
is to stay unknown where
you left and that being
born into this world
is to live you best
before you leave
before you leave
for good.

AN INTERPRETATION OF SUFFERINGS

to his counselor,
he made
a long list
of symptoms:
depressed,
back pain,
local pain,
loss of appetite,
loss of concentration,
nausea,
loss of interest,
language distortion —
through
the computer screen;
& she later
called them dukkha
for the sake
of censorship;
he went on:
nothing has changed
since I’m back
here:
she would be
chanting the Vietnamese
transcribed version
of Jewel Sutras
every night,
eyes closed,
without
understanding
a word of it;
she
had long
karaoke hours
once a week,
singing the same
repeated tunes,
with max volume
& doubled echoes —
exactly the way
her daunting
blame
bouncing against
his sickened head;
the Buddha
would bless
all of us

her belief was
tremendous:
by placing Him
on the altar,
next to her
dead grandpa
& the late
General,
with non-
toxic incenses
& phonetic
recitation
every night;
without knowing
none of us
is yet
near nirvana
& neither was
close enough
for her
to understand
changes have
various meanings,
so she ended up
censored
(his) the suffering
parts;
she persisted
with firm
to rather have
the Buddha
bless the shit
out of (him) us
;
even though
a Buddhist would
claim such thing
as theoretically incorrect
& none of us
was even
an inch
close up
to enlightenment.