POETRY July 5, 2024

Before Lunar New Year, Our Mothers Go Missing

So we learn how to hang our clothes, how to carry rice on chopsticks, to cleave things, to braise ox bones and slice lemongrass and pan fry morning glory, to regrow green onions in small glass jars, how to read tea leaves like their knuckles, to pleat a dumpling until it inherits the folds of their foreheads, their hands, the wings around their mouths; we learn how to scrub the toilet until our palms steam, porcelain haze floating over our heads for days; we learn how to sweep and swat without a sound, catching invisible hair and flies in our fists, in our sleep, and we hear our daughters in our dreams laughing, calling us miraculous; we learn how to toss things: McDonald’s toys, nectarine peels, Tiger Beer cans, melon seeds, toothpicks, the dirt grinning under our nails, but we keep the scorn our daughters teethed into our skin, because we have learned the language of our daughters, of vaping and shipping and TikTok and Shazam, because we have silkened their curses into silence; we learn the language of our daughters because they are our daughters; we learn how to see by the light of anything: by kitchen blades and by metal spoons, by spilled milk and spit and scars and the silvered strands our daughters tweezed from our scalps as they told us how beautiful we are, how sorry they are; we learn to see by the grief they kept, brighter than anything we owned; we learned how to curl our tongues seven times before we spoke, how to break our backs on the stars, how to light incense in the dark, to roll the smoke into the names of our mothers, to sew our lips around their absence, but we know they will be back, and they will be hungry, because back home is ahead of them, and we have piled all those prayers into a hill, where they will find the house, and us, silent as trees, the moon moating our heads, loaning them its light.

Uyen Phuong Dang is a Vietnamese American writer living in Saigon and New Haven in alternation. Her work has received support from Tin House and Fulbright and has appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Adroit Journal, Passages North, and elsewhere. She is currently in between places, working on a short-story collection centered on Vietnamese myths, daughters, and memory. More at https://www.uyenpdang.com/
Social Media: Twitter @_uyendang