Textures of April 30th: Poems by Katherina Nguyen

Image by Katherina Nguyen.

Miss Saigon

I wish I knew Miss Saigon
when she kept her maiden name.
Full of spring and promise,
Coy smile and graceful stride
Down green shaded park boulevards.
Fresh-faced, bright eyes
Looking outwards at new shores,
how beautiful she must have been…
A love child of east and west,
coming of age, suitors at her step.
Sheen of nostalgia
brightening her every flowering borough.

Was Miss Saigon like my mother
in her younger years,
sprightly steps, carefree laughter?
Guitar strumming, sweet voices humming,
slow notes floating down neighborhood alleys.
A simple golden afternoon.
White áo dài dress tails fluttering in the warm breeze
as they walked their bicycles home.
A generation of dreamy school kids
Dreams delayed indefinitely, thrust into war.
The war ate up their identities, their names.
The streets and buildings where they played
memorialized in news photography,
entombed under stark black headlines.
Epitaphs in lands they would never see.

I wish I knew Miss Saigon,
knew her through my parents’ eyes,
before the worry lines crowded their vision,
before her name became another word for loss.
What a sad thing to happen to a name.
What a sad thing to happen to a people.
The beautiful sound of home,
erased from maps and history books,
lives on in hearts.
Constantinople, too, was a beautiful song.
Miss Saigon shed her skin
(or did her skin shed her?)
Wed off to a new house,
a Miss Saigon no more.

I see Miss Saigon sometimes now
on the silver screen matinees.
Too much made up,
but beautiful still,
Too often backdrop
to grinning G.I. Joes,
propped upon their arms
wistfully awaiting their returns.
I see her portraits in museums sometimes.
Her eyes seem far away
looking past me from faded covers.
My parents still listen to her old songs
Remembering the glamour
of springs past, unspoken for
forever left to imagination.

I was once cradled in her bosom,
I too
felt her tender close embrace.
But I was too young
and she already busy rebuilding herself,
so many new children in her care—
I wonder if she remembers me?
Miss Saigon
How I
Miss Saigon.

Image by Katherina Nguyen.

The Ghost

I don’t want to feed the ghost
that haunts the furrowed brows
of the uncles gathered ‘round shouting,
arguing who lost more in the war,
who was more wronged by whom,
sipping bitter cups of coffee gone cold,
stale, angry stories to pass the time.

I don’t want to feed the ghost
that licks the tears of sad mothers
then winds tight around their necks,
pressing out bitter words,
their hopeful love,
suffocating families,
possessed by anxiety and envy,
a perpetual tightness in the chest.

The ghost grins and leans close,
pushing on old scars
where families and lives were ripped apart
still throbbing deep within their souls

Ghost pains —
for what once was
and now is no longer,
yet lingers still.

I don’t want to feed the ghost
that squeezes the hearts of veterans
turning righteousness into rage,
bravery into bloodlust,
squeezing hearts to squeeze pockets,
funds for an apparition army,
reincarnating violence
to retake the shadow memory of a city,
ignoring the seeds of life
sprung from its ruins.

I don’t want to feed the ghost
in the narrow gazes of my neighbors,
the ghost whispers,
“Who are they? Were they friend or foe?
They seem like us, but who really knows…”
Familiar faces, dark mirrors,
a community held in close embrace, mutual
suspicion, a shared habit of distrust
carved from the same cloth, torn
strangers together in a strange land
too close to ignore
too close to let in.

I don’t want to feed the ghost
hovering over warm homes
growing fat from scraps of grief, anger, scorn
dutifully offered up to red-lit altars
dark fruits of whose labor and for whom?
confusing remembrance with vengeance —
they lovingly laid family portraits next to burning embers,
inky incense, ill bodings rise,
a prayer that clouds out the heavens
casting long shadows on paths ahead

The ghost stretches forward,
ever hungry
and ever fed

Ghost pains —
for what was laid to rest
and deserves to rest,
yet lingers still.

I don’t want to feed the ghost
that tries to follows me
a strange sense of guilt :
guilt to have never felt the aftershock of a bomb
or the frigid lap of dark ocean waves,
guilt to be alive and happy
guilt to see in colors beyond old silver photographs
full of horror and debris
guilt to want to learn all sides of history
guilt to feel love for my homeland.

I don’t want to feed the ghost…
but I wonder
if the ghost is gone
will what remains
be emptiness?

a void
of memories both painful and beautiful

No other stories left to grasp
to remember the ghosts of who we were,
what came before,
to remind us we are more
than a generation-wide sense of displacement

Loyalty or a lifeline,
Who has been feeding whom?

Ghost pains —
longing for a life without ghosts,
yet doubt lingers still,
we linger still.

Author Bio

Part-time dreamer and full-time doer based in San Francisco, Katherina Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American first generation immigrant, multimedia storyteller, designer, and curator exploring the thresholds between art, culture, technology, and human truths.

As an emerging writer, she voices a modern diaspora identity of mixed metaphors and bilingual narratives, with a debut in late 2019 as part of a short stories anthology published nationally in Vietnam. Her work draws from lived experiences and ongoing questions of socio-economic evolution, governance systems, cognitive design, heritage preservation, and responsible global citizenship.


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