People say Vietnamese sounds ugly and I know
what they really mean is their ears are little UFOs
that trailblaze over secret military bases
abducting people from their homes and instilling their own
language so I understand it is scary
to hear something different but let me tell you it is scarier
to recognize a sound but not know what it means even a rabid animal
makes it clear to you that it has been wronged by parasites
but me I hear my mother give up on English every time
she talks to me to return to her alien tongue
and I am not prepared to travel into space where the stars
spread their dust into the abyss which is they say quiet
the science of sound unflinching as far as we know but how can it be
true I have looked upwards and I have heard the ocean stir inside me
the way it does when I hear Vietnamese this thing I once knew humans are passive
forgetters and I am instinctually afraid of growls hisses the deep night
but the human tongue is something else it is not a monster it can only
bite if you teach it it can only teach you there is more than one way
to see a light if you turn your head just slightly
the glare changes its shape there is nothing ugly at all
* * *
Kien Lam is a Kundiman Fellow, 2017 Best New Poet, and Indiana University MFA alumni. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming from the American Poetry Review, The Nation, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He lives in Los Angeles where he writes about esports. For more, follow him on Twitter @meanmisterkien.
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