The Return

Diana Khoi Nguyen

                            “This is the place I used to live before”
my father narrates as he documents the home
                     his family left behind at the end of the war—
“We are living we used to live in 1975”

                                                                          in that lost country
where dipterocarp trees were planted
during another occupation. They are numbered now

as the man pointing to where a boy once stood
at a spot in the alley where their dog died, a few bare
                     vines dangling from electrical lines.

Is it still there, behind these walls, old char
against old stones? I remember the photograph I saw
                                                          in 2005. Yesterday,
a monk silently swinging

                     in a hammock between prayers, silence
returning to the womb of a bell. In a grove
of budding dragon fruit trees I crushed

a spider in my ear. It had gone the wrong way
                                         crossing the border of this country
into the terrain of my body.

                                                                      Land is land
no man should own and what forces us to land
keeps us there. Unless—
Unless we are just passing through:

a passenger plane landing on the same runway
                     where a cargo plane fled four decades ago
a sparrow flitting through the silk leaves

of fake trees as my motorbike weaves through riders
in colorful ponchos, the wet streets distorting
                                                                              and mirroring
                     what they see: translucent bodies
trailing ghosts.
                                         Of all the colors, the colorless
ones are my favorite, I can see what lies beneath

between them and me. What is home but a place we
feel compelled to return to, my father after fleeing
myself after—
                                         after what? Being born elsewhere?

To be born is to be born anywhere. We bear ourselves
and sometimes we bear another. Another death
another breach of

                                                          boundary. Whose blood
drains between the cobblestones and where
does it come from?

Where does it end if it ends
                        isn’t there always something just beyond?
Nowhere exists, and our desire to return to it, passes
through. A snake swimming downstream

young eels along the way and I cannot distinguish them
from the river’s ripples. As I travel to a place I’ve never been
I know I’ve been there many times before.

A poet and multimedia artist, Diana Khoi Nguyen’s debut collection, Ghost Of (Omnidawn, 2018), was selected by Terrance Hayes for the Omnidawn Open Contest. In addition to winning the 92Y “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Contest, 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award and Colorado Book Award, she was also a finalist for the National Book Award and L.A. Times Book Prize. A Kundiman fellow, she is currently a writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and teaches in the Randolph College MFA.