Sunday, December 2, 2012

Sunday's poems: Cathy Linh Che

I came across Cathy Linh Che's  poetry on the website Behind the Lines: Poetry, War and peacemaking.

Cathy Linh Che
I see my mother at thirteen
in a village so small,
it's never given a name.

Monsoon season drying up--
steam lifting in full-bodied waves.
She chops corn for the hogs,

her hair dipping to the small of her back 
as if dipped in black
and polished to a shine.

She wears a side-part 
that splits her hair
into two uneven planes.

They come to watch her, 
Americans, Marines, just boys,
eighteen or nineteen.

With scissor-fingers, 
they snip the air,
repeat cut,
point at their helmets 

and then at her hair.
All they want is a small lock.
What does she say 

to her mother
to make her so afraid?

Days later 
she will be sent away
to the city for safekeeping.

She will return home 
only once to be given away
to my father.

Her hair 
was dark, washed,
and uncut.

copyright Cathy Linh Che

for my brother

The New York rain
keeps me inside.

Remember Hong Kong,
how dense the air,
how hard to breathe

inside buildings
of blue-green glass?

Here, the rain sounds
like paper tearing,
then crumpled.

How do I find my way back
to your fridge, always stocked
with Gatorade?

Today, did you call
just to talk? It seemed
we had nothing to say.

You are a coat
I want to turn inside-out
to see where the silk frays,

in the arms, along the back,
your massive shoulders.

When did you get so big?
There’s a picture of us.
I was four. I held you in my lap.

You were half my size,
so heavy, even then.

We used to stay up talking
across the room.
I read books by lamplight.

You turned away
when you wanted to sleep,
your radio by your ear,

a song by Aaliyah,
in my dream, repeating,

Come back to me 

Cathy Linh Che is a Vietnamese American poet born in Los Angeles in 1980. Her parents immigrated to America in 1976, after spending a year in a refugee camp in the Philippines.  Her first book of poems, winner the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize, is forthcoming from Alice James Books in 2014. She is also co-editing an anthology of poetry and prose from the children of the Vietnam War called Inheriting the War

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