Asking My Mother about Her Childhood

— Nghiem Tran

She won’t respond. A sea at night,
moonless and impenetrable. The dark
like a wall. Solid, dense. I can’t tell
where the shore ends, only that it does.
Then the tides of history, the undertow
of violence she has gone through,
surging and sweeping. Friends tell me
I’ll regret never knowing. But will I?
Her jaw muscle flutters. She is grinding
her teeth to keep the past locked in,
virulent and hungry for a way
out her veins. Blue lightning down her arms.
There is an organ in the body
that metabolizes trauma, breaking down
each memory of the soldiers into units
of energy. She wakes up at 4 a.m.
and works 8 hours at the factory. The body
in motion keeps the mind from stagnating,
pond water thick with algae and larvae,
noxious vapors rising from the warm surface
of her sorrow. I want her to move on.
I wade into a sea of not-knowing, unmoored
from the dock where she is calling for me,
my name like the mist between us.

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