HA KIET CHAU
drive south. eyes lit and moonburnt.
tallow trees slope down china landscapes.
paddy fields, mile after mile, we breathe
in mist and grain.
darkness pours. rain sounds like sex.
we light a joint, bag our troubles,
dump them on the roadside.
this is 3 am driving at its loneliest.
dead eels in oil lakes. frozen marshes—
not a crane or lily in sight.
half the world is in a slumber, the other half
is awake. we’re drenched, minds stranded
in a thunderstorm.
we wait for dawn, wait for light to crack.
all winter, you plunged
in and out of gray, begged for luminosity,
said you haven’t slept in months.
we’re halfway home, sun’s ascending—
this yellow is for you.
and yes, the future is unclear, my dear.
spring will burst with the scent of plums,
and this beam rupturing from behind the hills
is our grand spotlight. you asked for hope.
i interpret it as a sign. the world will wake.
you don't see what i see.
rays illuminating the curve of your lip,
morning’s quiet. you can sleep now.
November 30, 1998
HA KIET CHAU
the river is numb.
cold as hell—i can’t feel my toes, can’t feel
the night pa gambled all his money away,
two bullets fired through our window shattering
the antique vase and the buddha statue
on the mantelshelf.
outside, a black suv gunned down the street,
doing 80, tires scratching gravel.
my little brother screamed as ma plucked
glass off his face with a tweezer.
i tried distracting him from the sting—
flapping like big bird, hopping like kermit,
pointing at the tv screen—look, jimmy, look!
sesame street was no help, jimmy cried
so loud, bells rang in my ears.
pa staggered in after ten, beer spilling
from his dented budweiser can when two
large men barged through the door.
when pa said he couldn't pay off the debt,
they shot him in the leg, bang once, bang twice.
ma shook in her apron dress.
the men eyed her up and down, forcing her
at gunpoint to leave with them.
jimmy cried, i couldn’t move.
the river is numb in november.
pa’s limping across mulholland dam,
clutching my little brother’s hand.
the scars on his tiny face – visible in the dark.
pa’s calling my name through a megaphone.
he sounds faraway.
the river is dead in december.
canaries and frogs drift facedown in the water.
i am swimming and drinking the river,
gulp after gulp until i’m so heavy, i sink.
ma must’ve felt this way too when she jumped
into the atlantic the night pa gambled
all his money away.
A Streetcar Named Desire
HA KIET CHAU
blanche introduced me to her blow dealer
the night before halloween on park boulevard.
his name was cruz and he looked like a young
brando so we made out in a hookah smoke
alleyway under the big dipper.
24 hours later, in daddy’s truck waiting
for the green light, i saw a cop chase cruz down
macarthur—a block from wong’s laundromat.
my mouth zipped shut as daddy drummed
his fingers on the steering wheel, grumbling
about all the underage delinquents and hookers
in west oakland.
cars honked as cruz shouted expletives
at the cop handcuffing him to a fence.
when he saw me slouched in the passenger’s seat
of daddy’s truck, i mouthed, where’s blanche?
he darted his eyes across the street
at the curvy redhead in a leather miniskirt
and stilettos wiggling towards the black
ferrari idling by the curb.
blanche stuck out her ass, batted her bambi
lashes at the faceless driver like a professional
before pocketing the money,
before stepping inside the car.
i held my breath as cars vroomed,
desire racing like wheels on wind.
cruz watching me watch blanche
from the side view mirror.
green light flashing. heart beat waning.
desire killing me with his point-blank stare.
if only desire could follow me home,
sneak into my bed, rumple my sheets.
daddy doesn't have to know.