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‘Becoming Ghost’ by Cathy Linh Che

— Nix Thérèse

‘Becoming Ghost’ highlights how memory-fragments can be powerful conduits of identity and lineage. Surprisingly our first encounter with Vietnam isn’t even “real”: “we / drag slowly across the back / of the screen, miniature / prisoners of war to Robert Duvall’s / broad, naked chest.” A stark juxtaposition happens between these displays of vulnerability: somehow being snatched from your homeland in the early morning fog while fire erupts in the palms transforms into a moving backdrop, static for the protagonist that won’t even cock his head your direction. Films like these remind me of the many times I’ve had to squeeze oral histories from my elders who have the reel trapped behind their eyes or sunken in their gut; just speaking these memories is a case study in extraction where I held the pieces that barely lived outside their bodies. The body is an archive full of resounding echoes. How do we honor the fragments, the breaking? Yet, the shared forgetting of the father and daughter scrub traces of their connection. He mentions the mother sewing “coins into the linings of [his] pockets, so that [the child] could eat / enough food, and grow taller / than either of us” and only asks his daughter to look him in the face and “say Father.” She’s the culmination of all of his sacrifices in immigrating and beginning anew, yet she won’t even hold his eye or speak his name. How do you build yourself up when the foundation has gone ghost? Your only recourse is finding a new center, and we watch him spin out her orbit: “My father has deleted a daughter, today, / he is blessed with two sons... Happy, he says, looking into the mirror and seeing no reflection.” Reinstating his identity as elder is a cause for joy; his repotted story can now flow through the roots. Yet the continued focus on how his branches have snapped makes the daughter more than just ghost: she’s the palpable phantom lingering just outside the frame.