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)