Tam Nguyen is an emerging Vietnamese writer and multimedia artist,
based in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.

play dead

"let's murder language. kill the fleeing vernaculars as well, to make sure. see the son? if it tries to articulate, cut its tongue. don't stab the lies just yet. you have to kill the son first. see the mother? put a blind on it. corrupt the left ear. perfect. is prayer still alive? good. we need it later for grieving. and hear me out: once the son is executed, give it three kicks. that's how many times it kowtows before articulation arrives."

A conversation with my mother

/she puts her phone down and holds my hand/It's small-talk time/she mumbles/smearing her fingers against my palm as if to smooth it down/there is no window in the room/which means everyone must pretend being empty/I try explaining depression/she's distracted by the cicatrizing wound on my left knee/something bulges out for the eyes/I say I'm sick/she starts picking the scab/I use cancer as a simile/she stuns/then nods her head/the news says/volunteers injected with covid-19 vaccine last week are healthy and stable at the moment/but still being under discreet observation/good/she says/seriously/I don't know whom to thank anymore/she suggests going to the landlord and his mistress' temple/(again)/in 1820/they sacrificed themselves like any parent would to brake a great plague/which is to stand in front of an altar and pray for their death in place of others/and died and saved the whole village/and before the plague/a famine/after the plague/my brother/after my brother/myself/and way before us/my mother dreamed hungry/she believed the landlord gave her a belly-full of fetuses/saying from then on her children would feast utterly/yesterday/a new crater found next to a ditch with an undetonated bomb/three meters in width/only a few miles away from where we live/thus far I never dreamed starving/or in other words/I could have exploded in my mother's tummy/emptied it all over again/but I chose to thank her for having had many parents/today/I decide to dream empty: I'm inside the temple/I'm closing my eyes/crawling my way through a tunnel beneath the landlord's altar/struggling to navigate/I ask my mother what would I see on the other side mom?/you'll see the fullest/she promises/when I open my eyes/I see her on her knees/her lips read thank you/

in the room where everything
dissolves into
references of a womb

A guide to mom's groceries

— all items must be food
— all food must be my sons' favorite
— it's okay if I cook a lot
— it's okay if some will go to waste now
— I will cook him fried "thit ba roi" today,
— one that I came back from the market empty-handed
— before my mother, for I mispronounced it "thit ba loi"
to the butcher
— even your name, which I often miscalled to your brother's,
— even when I needed you most
— but sons are sons, I thought
— cause I was hungry during a war whose name I mispronounced
to "starve"
— and we starved
— even in our dreams
— we did not get to waste anything
— even our last grain of rice went to the soldiers fighting
— in the front
— rice that went down to drops of blood
— rice for peace
— for victory
— for my name
for that's what makes the nation's greatest mother,
— my mother said
— to be the greatest mother
— I tried
— on the virtual keyboard of my phone
— I typed, one letter at a time, with only one finger:
would you like thit ba roi for dinner?
— and got all the spellings right
— I tried
— to be the greatest mother
— I looked for sons between my fingers, but
— dear, dear sons
— whose red feathers as high as the horizon
— I stretched my arms for ages
— but could no longer tether
— sons
— who dissolve into a sun at a touch
— even when the sun is a metaphor for love
— and I'm empty-handed
— all over again
— but I keep on feeding, even though
— once the birds are stuffed
— they fly
— and the groceries list must never be empty

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