THIS IS FOR MẸ: Thanksgiving for Living Grace

Lynn Nguyen Boland shares a poetic homage to her mother, meditating on memories of mothering and the complexities of belonging, heritage, language and home.

Inspired by Ocean’s Vuong’s letter to his mother in the New York Times, this is for mẹ lives online as a borderless mailbox for Asian identified people to share stories rooted in mothers, motherhood, motherlands, mother-tongues and family.

Thanksgiving for Living Grace


A photo of Lynn Nguyen Boland’s parents who were married at Sancta Maria Orphanage in Saigon.


          by grace

no one to take

the easy way

always humble you

told me to work

manually, you said 

be simple, baby

like me

you ate the burnt

crisp bottom

of the pot rice

ming chai

and had seen 

what the West

had lost and won

and were given 

no part of  either

accepted the terms

no claim or conquest

but the knowledge of

your own dignity

was sufficient

when not a burden 

to be carried across 

your bare back

like a 50-pound sack of rice

in a land 

where pigs cannot see

their shadows

for the concrete and

resulting fear of mud

where a wide nose might

take in more air

than can be spared

and cans of spray floral

potpourri are used

to mask the odor of fish.



          by grace 

was no sweet corn deva

she grew eggplant instead

and lemon grass

in the front yard

and picked sour fruit,

and left peelings of potatoes

for birds and worms

atop the soil

of her garden

— stolen space 

between the house 

and the studio 

where my father took photos

of tall, blonde women.



          by grace 

was not one for glamour 

or pretension

but once

she had loved to play

with fashion, had face 

and gave herself Egyptian eyes

with black kohl pencil.

Saigon’s answer

in reminiscence

to Brigitte Bardot

stripped naked 

would cross the river 

to get to school

and smudge her face

with coal to keep

her woman’s place 

from invasion 

by French soldiers.



          by grace

(and apology,

my ritual) I did not

cut my hair 

nor wear it loose to hang 

below my waist 

I would not let

you know I’d started

to menstruate

for one year because 

I could feel what bitterness

the seeds of womanhood had borne

for you, many 

lilies of white 

man’s shame 


your husband had called you 

also, the mother

of his children

so that when you called me

your daughter, con di

in your anger, I knew that 

a whore, to you

was someone who

could not be spoken to 

in her own language. 



         by grace 

was not usually frivolous

though once she had 

been whimsical and

brought sand 

home from the park 

and made a fun-ride

of the backyard hammock

and had sewn me 

a long slim coat 

that no six-year-old 

would be caught in dead

(but which all the older girls


and bought for me 

bright blouses with big

fluorescent flower

prints of a different era 

(To make me an empress?)

let me wear her rings

of gold and semi-precious

stones, sturdy and awkward

to school

on my skinny child’s fingers 

and her bracelet of jade,

so that it

would grow greener.



          by grace 

was not college educated

but had always done well

in school

she had studied French

and knew certain words 

in some Chinese dialects.

Could peel a mango 

pare and cut better 

than I would ever see

and chased away a rat

one Sunday morning

as my father stood scared,

Los Angeles Times in hand 

atop the living

room coffee table, 


until the harbinger 

of pestilence

was gone. 



          by grace

was never a member

of the PTA 

though she’d gladly

make eggrolls 

for classroom parties

when other mothers 

had cakes made frosted 

or chocolate chip cookies

wrapped neatly

with ribbon

or sealed in Tupperware,

unlike my offerings

which I reluctantly brought 

in plastic produce bags

lined with paper towels

atop dinner plates 

which I had to carry

home at the end 

when the party

was over and

everyone else

was done. 



          by grace

was no housewife

her husband of choice 

was Christ, a man

who would not exact 

payment in flesh 

as my father

would for the torment

he endured, and the tortures

the secret Army

enacted upon him

and others who were 

not members of his race

nor fellow countrymen nor

even men, many times

hurled from grace

of body, and in 

mind but children

and women, some

whores by necessity

not innocent like

the ones who were waiting

for him back home. 



          by grace

was not an angel or saint

yet to me, 

entrance into this 

world, my connection

to Earth, my own,

before God, she fed me 

faith at her breasts,

the milky way, she 

taught me every cry

is answered, before

I knew to speak or

beseech, or pray:

king mung, Maria

hail, Mary

Mother of God

full of grace. 



          by grace 

is now young again and 

loves a refugee born

a generation later

than she, and lives

in a warehouse

in Santa Ana because

it’s the Catholic

name of her mother, and

she wears lipstick, soft

blouses for the first

time in years, is 

smiling as she

irons rows of dresses,

in her work pants 

and open-toed sandals,

stands taller now 

the daughter of a village

chief, a maker of silk,

a farmer of pigs

of another land, her feet

in place, foreign (even

while giving birth you 

held me, a stranger 

in your ocean, Everything

long enough) feels like home. 



          by grace 

You remind me.

Author Bio

Lynn Nguyen Boland

I am a second generation Los Angeleno who now lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley of the 70s and 80s as the oldest of three siblings, with a Caucasian American-born father and a Vietnamese mother, who met in Vietnam in the early 60s.  I attended UCLA as a pre-Biology major briefly, but became more interested in the liberal arts and humanities, as well as occult, metaphysical, and holistic healing traditions.
I moved to the Bay Area and spent most of the 90s there involved in social activism and the study of writing poetry and prose while finishing a B.A. in English Literature and taking graduate courses in both Literature and Public Policy.
“Thanksgiving for Living Grace” was developed while I was participating in a poetry workshop taught by the legendary Judy Grahn.
I have been a Buddhist who chants Nam Myoho Renge Kyo each day since 1988, yet Catholic traditions of my youth continue to influence me, and I am a beneficiary of my mother’s current and lifelong attentiveness to the Blessed Mother.
I have been a practitioner of intuitive and oracular arts, such as tarot reading, for over 30 years.


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