I couldn’t find grandpa’s grave after a deep-water season. Water filled like a mirror, bemused
like a candid child. Grandpa said fishermen grew by water, died of water, and turned into water.
I disbelieved as people came to erect a dyke to stop the flow and get abundant harvest. Forever,
as they affirmed. At night, grandpa complained he couldn’t die if there was no water coming by.
No way to dissolve. A colorful singer danced to her foreign language song on the blinking TV
screen. Grandpa said he didn’t see human shade for months in the lushy purple forest thirty years
before this dyke business swept through our lowland. Grandpa’s back hurt and he missed the
toads’ tales from the border town afar beyond purple swarms. I told grandpa not to confuse layers
of life through the years he ventured and went back to the pinky K-Pop singer with a twitching
dance on TV. That night grandpa dissolved into water. Dad built a grave on the path to the sea,
with sundari mangroves in thickets. Years before all of this, the crocodile was busy enticing
passersby for a lavish lunch. Grandpa wandered to catch snails and clams searching for honeybee
and bulbuls, in the forest turning to fairy tales since the day I was born. In a whim of daydream,
my empty mind couldn’t recall where grandpa’s grave was. His grave was beyond water, where
the tides rose, Dad pointed to the open sea.
The fish head rolled off mom’s cutting board. His unblinking eyes glanced at mom reflecting a
rainy season. I walked to school barefoot. Blood spots dripped from the cracked skin. I promised
not to run through rocks and pebbles but was impatient when mom’s shade did not appear afar.
Feet missed mom and rushed by themselves to the eucalyptus bridge. Wooden barks pierced my
little foot soles. The fish asked if I was on time for mom’s food. Lunch with dry rice choked on
the tip of chopsticks. Mom dug out an endless amount of rice, feeding me like growing an acacia
tree to giant, restless. The fish head reminded mom must be hungry. She filled another bowl for
me, her eyes pallid as water holes. The fish grasping mouth suggested mom to make sour soup.
Sesban flowers on boat, vegetables on edge of water. Mom chewed bitter gripe weed to bits,
binding up the bleeding scratch on my sole. Waterlily was lifted from the river, purple branches
dissolving in the green morning glory vegetable. The silvery eyeballs blinked watery and dove in
young tamarind leaves. I slurped a mouthful tangy soup. That day mom’s eyes filled up the warm
Khải Đơn is a Vietnamese writer, nurtured and inspired by the Mekong River. She won the Academy of American Poets/Virginia de Araujo Prize in 2021 at San Jose State University.