Vol XXII, Cartesian Product

Vol XXII: Cartesian Product



It is October, when the winds of Autumn blow strong in
the Pacific.

There are over two thousand of us, crammed sardines,
barely human and starving. We sleep on the floor and
wash ourselves with seawater. People are sick.

When someone dies from sickness, s/he is wrapped
in a blanket and tossed overboard during a Buddhist

I was only two years old and can not recollect the dying
next to me, nor can I recollect my constant coughing nor
could I recall seeing my mother’s worried countenance as she
contemplated our future. How my constant crying made
her want to jump overboard.





When I was little,
I was told not to sit
like a beggar, a hut-yee.

That is, with one knee
up to my chest

like those beggars
and rickshaw drivers
on the streets of Saigon.

So, I was taught to sit
the way people in the U.S.
sit with both legs on the floor
and their back straight – a
ninety degree angle.

Sometimes I can cross one leg
over the other.

I am suppose to sit the way
I want to be in the future and
that is certainly not a beggar.

But I think something differently:
I can still sit with my knee up
to my chest and not beg – I must,
then, have an acute problem.




A proposal by someone to my mom
after the Vietnam War: Why don’t
you sell your baby, you don’t have
anything to eat?

A response by my 4-year-old brother:
No, don’t sell my sister! There are lots
of cockroaches for us to eat!

When I returned to the country
18 years later, I saw them –
large, brown shiny tanks on the wall,

evidence of my brother’s love for me.




When I was little,
My mom use to tell me not to smell roses
because the small bugs would get into my nose.
I avoided sniffing roses into adulthood.

One day, a beautiful bush of red and white
roses implored me, to get a closer look.

I leaned closer than my mom would have liked.
It happened quickly, without a thought, a waft
like honey.

I smelled again.

Then I was curious about the purple ones, the
orange ones, and the deep red ones.




Bending down and narrowing her eyes,
she holds a torch and the stream of fire 
shapes a silver thread into swirls.

A plastic shield protects her eyes
from sparks of flame in her hand.
The fire polishes a crystal into
the colors of a city where she was born -
how we leave pieces of ourselves like shards.



Vietnam Ghost Stories

There are stories of ghost-like beings that roam,
carrying the bones of the dead,
their steps heavy with the weight
of fields and fields.

And the dead too -
there are stories of the dead.
Stories mother tells
of the ghost with a long tongue
that licks dishes at night.
The song of clanging from
the kitchen as I lie awake in bed,
a country away.



Hugging My Grandma

This is how it feels
to hold a peach tree. Not
the trunk of the tree,
but the branches. The branches
full of leaves and blossoms
and me just holding them.
The bees circle to get
pollen and nectar,
so in my arms
are bees and butterflies
and fragrance and the assurance
of fruits. O how the branches
tremble with so many open arms.



A Story of Mother and Daughter

She holds the baby cradled in her arms,
perpendicular to her body.
At that point of intersection –
two hearts are one.

The girl’s body grows - no longer able
to stay horizontal in her mother’s arms.
The bodies – vertical and parallel,
never really touching, yet yearning towards each other.



Cam On

It’s like a difficult conversation,
some words are hard to say.
So we go around it like a
round-a-bout. Spin the way
kids do when they play airplane
with their arms out like wings
or spin and spin and spin until
they are dizzy and collapse.
Remember how fun that was?
Never having to go anywhere
Or do anything in particular.

So this was my way around
it – Latin, Spanish, German,
Hebrew, Russian, even some
Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
These languages moved me
with their music and passion.
I hated to hear Vietnamese.
It sounded ugly to me, did not
even want to look at the words
in print.

Perhaps it was memory
associated with war
that was hard to face.

I suppose I am becoming
stronger now. Something
has changed inside of me.
I want to learn Vietnamese,
be able to speak the language
of the country where I was born,

no longer spinning.

Xin chao - hello

Cam on – thank you

How the song of the gong
is summoning me back.



Cartesian Product

The set of yellow people
is the intersection of the set
of people and the set of yellow things.
So, I am seeking to find
where these two trains collide,
both leaving no where, heading for the
intersection at an incalculable speed.