Poetry: Diana Khoi Nguyen

Souvenirs from a Future World

Evening worked quickly as if sewing a ghost.
The cry of a doorframe holding nothing,
Light cut through.
Two truant hands gripped stucco,
Peppercorns dropped from trees,
The dapple-gray rider smelled the whale washed up on the beach.
A room warmed by oxtail soup and letters,
Hamartia: to run blindly into the chest of a god.
Let’s talk like men.
Dogs know when their owners are heading home.

Johannes & Margaret

It is the story I read over & over again:                                                      a cottage by the black pine forest
             cozy as a jar of honey                                       tucked in thistle

                          the leather knuckles of a woodcutter                   who never plays the last note to a song
             the mother’s death             a bolt of red silk unraveling into floorboards.

                                       Children have such soft hands.
                                                                 The new wife only eats meat.

                          You know what comes next:
                                       a girl’s white shoulder                    gleaming like wet swansdown in the thicket.

Into the mouths of her young                                                             a blackbird spits bread crumbs & worms.
                          A boy clutching sorrel                    bound with red wool

                                       approaches a doorless hut.
                                                                 The skull lanterns whisper

             “There are clothes in the closets here                        we don’t know who they belong to.”
                                                                                          But none of this is true.

                                       It’s a story you’ve heard before:                 the one where
             a boy gnaws a chicken bone             chained to his iron bed.

During his sister’s autopsy                                         they find in her paper body
                                                    one kernel of corn.

                          Their mother is sentenced to a cage                                        where she can smell
                                                                 the lingering presence of men on the moon.

                                       This is a story I tell about the living:
When a child is born                                    she is given her freedom almost at once.

                                                                                           When you were born
             you severed the umbilical cord                      with a razor you hid in your mouth.

                                       When I was born                                        my mother stepped out of my body
                                                                 and into my sister’s.

                          A ghost does not burn when placed in the kiln.                                     To rid a ghost
approach it gently from behind                                  your voice peeled to a whisper

             I forgive you.
                                                                 You don’t have to do this anymore.

Based on the fables, fairy tales and novels that I read as a child, my work also turns to studies in animal behavior in order to complete a first manuscript about the effects of psychological and emotional damage. I am interested in exploring the friction between chaos and order in nature, nature and imposed (man-devised) order, the seen and unseen, the known and the imaginary. I offer voices to diverse stories and retell my own personal stories in order to make sense of the now and of the journey traveled. I hope to trace a collective map of where’ve been as a species, with a headlamp on where we’re going.


Diana Khoi NguyenA native of California, Diana Khoi Nguyen is a recipient of awards from the Academy of American Poets and the Key West Literary Seminar. She’s also received a Pushcart Prize nomination and scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. Diana’s poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Pool Poetry, Memorious, Lana Turner, Poetry, and elsewhere. www.dianakhoinguyen.com