my father writes from louisiana
after ocean vuong
em khoẻ không/ em đang ở đâu/ tối hôm qua anh nằm mơ em có bầu/ there are things i can only say/ when i get home/ if it’s a girl i think/ i want to name her kimberly/ i have spent/ an entire breath/ trying to get out/ of the ocean/ only to return to it/ like a soldier/ reporting for duty/ like war is all/ this ocean has ever known/ em ơi em ơi/ anh nhớ nhà nhớ em/somewhere you are waiting for me/ the ocean parts/ before the dawn/ to show me/ her/tucked inside the waves// em ơi em ơi/ trời ơi em ơi/ anh về liền/ and when you see me/ come to the door/ con ơi ba đây/ con ơi, daddy’s home//
The story behind this poem is that when my parents first got married, my father left my mother behind in Nebraska while he went to try his luck looking for work down on fishing boats in Louisiana. My father claims that while he was there, he had a dream that my mother was pregnant and called her, alerting her to her pregnancy before she even knew. The poem is written after and inspired by "My Father Writes from Prison" by Ocean Vuong found in his poetry collection, "Night Sky with Exit Wounds."
I chose to write this poem in two languages, without translations, because an important part of my poetry is access. The audience that will have the most immediate access to this poem is an audience that speaks both Vietnamese and English, an audience—primarily Vietnamese-American—that drifts between the languages, like I do. For those who speak only Vietnamese or English, part of the poem will require translation, giving that audience a different type of access.Creating different levels of access in my poetry allows me to maintain artistic honesty about my identity and experience, resonate with readers who are similar to me, and make a bold statement about whom my poetry centers. In the end, only those who, like me, drift between the languages are able to understand the poem fully and completely while those who only understand one of the two languages miss half of the picture. I feel that this tension is representative of my experience as an Asian-American.
Kimberly also has a new poetry book out called “flesh.” You can order a copy here: https://kimberlynguyenwrites.com/store/flesh-signed
“This poetry series by Kimberly Nguyen is an anthem to her womanhood. It contains raw reflections on body image, eating disorders, love, and abuse, with a love letter to her future daughter echoing in the background.”