Seven circles of cunts

After Jenny Zhang

/  I  /there was a hell/which was our classroom/and a summer/which we called an exit/sorry/for letting you step out of hell on your own/  II  /there were three couples dating among thirty of us/all appeared to be straight/the guys wouldn’t stop talking about how stupid their girls were/the girls wouldn’t stop praising the patriarchy/they blamed the guys whenever they were not being patriarchal/only one of them broke up when we high-school finished/which is you and your gf/which has later became an equilibrium for both/  III  /after the 2016 election/as simple-minded vietnamese high-school kids/the guys celebrated the defeat of hilary clinton/having read no more than three articles about the candidates’ political campaigns/the chubbiest one in class/who was (thought to be) excelled in vietnamese history/whose name also happens to mean ruling in english/called the woman leaders he knew stupid cunts/his female classmates just cunts/his bros who did stupid things gay cunts/  IV  /all his bros were gay cunts/all the gay cunts were straight/everyone else was straight cunts (?)/you was a gay bro/but wasn’t a cunt/  V  /the principle demanded a trans guy to change back to wearing his right uniform/which is a dress/just two months before his graduation/well sorry/but who is a cunt now?/  VI  /sorry/for your mother’s tongue/which has failed to accompany either your words or ankles 1/ VII  /until that summer/without the sun spilling down your neck/you stepped into the season/you put an end to the incarnation of cunts hell/but still/it was a prayer for a muted tongue/a quitted skin/for a quitted body/a bruised ankle for a knee that resisted to kneeling/sorry/for the moment you stepped into summer/you were still a disguised fag/


1 since there were countless times when you shot parts of yourself into the night with thousands of abandoned ideas and visions, none of which was your gf, or any others. every little death departing from your body like blindfolded cardinals, and the air was made either a black hole or a mother’s strangle. the sort that you felt as she recites something you cannot tell based on how it sounds – either a prayer or the great compassion mantra, for it being proceeded before an altar with six jarred pairs of eyes peering. some are dead. others are just holy. but none of which is alive enough to make sense of the weight they imposing upon us.

(This poem originally appeared on Heavy Feather Review, Issue 11, Fall 2021)

son, says


son       says the fetus of a son

you are nothing           but your mother’s son

because        countless prayers have poured into you



son      says the forty-year-old mother

as the baby slid out from her womb      covered

in the blood        of her ancestors      both outside

and inside


son       says       the buddha

son       says       the sky

his mother honors both       but her son

was made of       either


son       says his four-month-old mother

wrapped      around her mother’s arms      inside

a bomb bunker                outside         the blood was shedding from dying peasants

she smelled it in the air         thinking how much it resembled her menstrual blood

before her baby’s carriage         while assuming her child             

was warm        inside   despite the sources of heat      were indistinguishable


no blood shed inside the bunker           the bunker    is a womb



son       says the riot

son       says the war

son       says the grandma

son       says everyone’s buddha

says everyone’s sky


you have made it here today


son,     says the sun          in his mother’s

favorite folk song    tình cha ấm áp như vầng thái dương

            the father’s love is as warm as the sun


son,      says the twenty-year-old son

even the sun shrinks our shadows down at its peak


thus          it’s no one’s sun    thus        there’s no one’s sky    

but the land            has always been ours

it’s called nationalism


son      says the father     not “con trai”      but

the confucius’s manners of a man


son,      says the father

there is a disease that is worse than

your great grandfather’s friend’s         agent orange

you don’t wanna be caught up in it

it’s called homosexuality


son      says the son

that disease        is in your blood ever since

whose blood is it?    

is it the peasants’? 

is it his mother’s?

is it his mother’s mother’s?

is it his mother’s mother’s mother’s?

is it his father’s? his father’s father’s?

is it his land’s?

whose blood is it?!    



son       says the mother’s strangle she      never committed

whenever the son went spoiled        she wished she had strangled

him            when he was still an infant


did her mother want to strangle her when she went spoiled as an infant?

did her mother’s mother’s want to strangle her when she went spoiled as an infant?

did her mother’s mother’s mother’s want to strangle her when she went spoiled as an infant

would they have literally strangled their daughter if she was literally spoiled as an infant?


son       says the sky   

son       says the buddha


your mother’s prayers were only half-way through you


son         says the son

stunned by the smell of too many bloods      

please pardon the mother

mother    says the son        

please pardon the son


son       says the sixty-year-old mother

while still praying for a shadow that looks like him


son      says the son

you are nothing but your mother’s son        and never enough

(This poem originally appeared on SOFTBLOW Review, Issue May, 2021)


"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.



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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 the pumped milk. Then, another machine is used to keep them warm, until the baby girl is ready to be fed. Meanwhile, the child is often 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 until she shat herself, for her didn’t stop barking in a dark, stormy evening. I didn’t forget about the dog and didn’t forget my tongue, for my tongue was once my mother’s, who was on her knees, begging her God for something good to end up in her womb, a daughter maybe — but her words only traveled halfway, and eventually, she had me instead. To understand what it takes to learn about love is to remember what we had lost escorting the tongue of a mother, besides her breasts and the dog howling in a dark, stormy evening.


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
At least not in this room,
where walls are shat & doors are shut,
& not even your nightgown
in blue.


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.


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.