parental diptych ~ a poem by an. Phan

“Mother & Child” by Nguyen Thanh Binh.


gnaws cartilage from chicken bones
and craves scorched rice
scraped from the bottom of a pot,
sings unabashedly at karaoke
and makes up weird nonsense songs
about onion rings while she cooks;
convinced boys as a teen
to smuggle her banned books,
struck fear in their lovestruck hearts
as she passed on her motorbike;
weeps at Korean drama endings
but never at the chronic pain in her legs,
is beautiful in my present and my childhood,
even under the fluorescent light
as she studied calculus after cooking
and sending her daughters to bed.


hates ending a meal without a warm, clean canh,
furrows his eyebrows when I play rap music
but dances with his hips and shoulders;

has strong thick calves and dark brown skin
from all those years delivering mail in the desert sun,
and piles of navy and light blue laundry;

lights up when new people are around
so he can tell old stories,

and loves to rub his hands
together so you can feel his energy
before he massages the shoulders
he knew were sore and tense

just by looking at you;

is the same man from my present and my childhood,
steady and quiet, silly and serious even when
he falls asleep during meditation in the dark.

Contributor’s Bio

The oldest daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, an. Phan took root among the cottonwoods of Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has previously been published in The Stanford Journal of Asian American Studies and Rust + Moth Magazine. As a child she was raised in the desert highlands, and now raises hell in San Francisco, teaching humanities and health education at a small public school. She devotes her daily efforts to organizing for what the Zapatistas call “a world in which many worlds fit.”


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