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now hidden behind the altar 

in the foremost room. 

I remember him less 

than the clock

above the kitchen table 

of my childhood home. 

Two hands 

and a blue ring. 

A brown stain 

on a bed 

never warm again. 

The smell of molasses. 

I don’t know 

if I ever knew his name. 

My aunt told me 

in his last days 

he kept asking 

for his grandchildren. 

The family said tomorrow 


tomorrow. She said 

he asked for me 

but I wanted her to be 

a liar 

all the way through. 

In the old land 

the country of rain

and lacquer

dust masks

and motor oil

sugar thick milk

thinned with earth and water

my mother told me 

the two of us once 


The old man and the child 

hand in hand 

walking to a café 

without a word 

to the house behind us,

the house

expecting loss.

But I would remember 

if I was lost. 

That is how 

fear works. 

We only vanished. 

The time between us, vanished.

Footsteps muffled

by more footsteps.

A long hill

up to a faceless crowd

at attention behind me.

In the crematory,

a body moving

in every direction

at once. My hand against

the glass. As close

as I would be to knowing

my dead.


What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?

I think an "emerging poet" means a poet who has yet to define a clear relationship between their work and that of their community. When I think of coming into view or becoming apparent or prominent, I imagine there must be a context, a place and time, a set of traditions and norms that are being accepted or rejected or changed, and people already living where I want my work to live. Of course, poets have many relationships with many communities, so I suppose there must be many opportunities to "emerge"—in new landscapes, in new roles—and I don't think that the relationship to the poetry community is necessarily the most important one.

Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?

Because I don't really know whose work my work speaks to, yes, I think so. I feel at a bit of a loss to explain my own relationship to my writing, much less any relationship that exists between my poetry and my communities. I would like my practice to heal me, to teach me about my own experiences instead of obfuscating them—but I don't have a tangible process that accomplishes that. There's so much I don't know about my history as a trans Vietnamese American that I can't even begin to place myself as a poet in that context in any substantive way. I get the sense that some people see that I exist, and those happen to be people I love and look up to so that seems important, but I'm not sure that I know enough about the people I come after to claim to be "emerging."

What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?

First I think it requires defining what kind of recognition is being sought, what it means to achieve that recognition, and by what parts of what poetry communities. Being published in a journal is a kind of recognition. Getting paid to do a reading is a kind of recognition. Having a conversation with a reader or audience member about a shared experience is a kind of recognition. Hearing lines whispered or jokingly shouted between friends is a kind of recognition. Living on in the work of others—in poems or in acts of kindness—is a kind of recognition. As for what it takes, which always implies what should one do to achieve something, I'm probably a terrible person to ask—I feel like I never get anything done. I am told making concrete goals and breaking them down into very small and manageable steps and doing them one by one is a great way to make progress. I hope doing that will get me somewhere I want to be.

How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?

I don't believe that there's anything special about the poetry community that makes the effect of power politics any different. Poets aren't immune to personhood. Imagining so makes identifying and ending power imbalances even more difficult. The poetry community replicates the power dynamics that dominate the rest of the world and will do so until those power structures are dismantled from all our institutions. To the extent that poetry communities may be more radical, I think it's worth remembering that nobody is ever just a poet and that poetry communities do not exist in changeless sociopolitical vacuums. Even people who have learned how to healthily sustain the struggle for freedom (and I am not one of those people) will see oppressive systems evolve as well. Or we might not see it until it's too late. And of course people who face trauma are always shaped by it. I think one struggle will be identifying responses to trauma that lead to recovery but are still, in the long run, maladaptive for us and for our communities.

What does community mean to you?

I think community means people who share time with each other. I think about sharing time specifically because that is the measure of life that seems most apparent, most valuable, and most variable in form. I mean that the things we spend our time on—poems, plum trees, telescopes, city blocks—can be the basis of a community, can be ways of being in community with others, as well as sharing a physical space and time. I think because there are so many ways to externalize our memories and extend ourselves, there are as many ways to live in the world, and maybe that makes each of us less alone, regardless of how lonely we feel.


NHU XUÂN NGUYỄN is a trans Vietnamese American writer. Their work appears or is forthcoming in The Offing, Deluge, and The Journal.


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