Steven Duong

American Mixtape

Song in which the TR-808 is more American than the Stratocaster
Song that makes us feel halved, then doubled
Song that tempts my father to accompany Saigon’s finest crooners
                     Song written for a kung fu movie
Song written by a bird who samples the grooves and ridges of her father’s tongue
Song in which the singer sees himself in every ant colonizing his kitchen
Song in which foreign rain falls in triple-time, like suppressing fire
                     Song in which the Vietnamese words for nation and water elope in a French sedan
Song in which a national park dreams of becoming an ashtray
Song that imports dreadlocks to Chengdu
Song in which Ronald Reagan proclaims himself stepfather of trap music
                     Song performed for a series of focus groups charged with writing a
Song in which the TR-808 is more American than the Stratocaster
Song in which my father cries in front of his children
                     Song livestreamed
                                         for an audience of one



Family Altar Diptych


To acquaint the body with itself                     leave the mind unread
Sacrilege knows no bounds but the ones it breaks                     and why should it

I never behaved myself at deathday meals                     and now that I’m abroad
my little brother sets the table                     for family ghosts and their plus-ones

When a cousin dies unbodied                     hollow winds people a tomb
If you never escaped by boat                     you need not disembark

Ma, be unafraid of soaps and medicines                     we co-own the sinking house
Some days our tongues are shrines                     for words we can’t pronounce


In a shawl of incense smoke                     an ancestral cardinal labels you
yellow, a class traitor                     how I’d love to knit gossip with her

Between the Buddha and his Kalashnikov                     a well-oiled grammar
Perhaps I will come back as a horsefly                     at the throat of your god

Ba, hone your whining into hope itself                     alchemist of brittle verbs
A son cannot be a whetstone                     for your dead language

One day we will tumble down the well                     only to discover it’s a pond
whose long-blind koi gulp the sky                     and spit it back up mistranslated


Immigrant hearts hatch grounds to flutter                     death a failure of motion
Death is a failure of motion



Steven Duong is a Vietnamese American poet from San Diego, California and a student of English at Grinnell College. The recipient of several awards, including an Academy of American Poets University and College Prize, he has poems featured or forthcoming in Salt Hill, Academy of American Poets, Columbia Poetry Review, Crab Creek Review, Sugar House Review, The Penn Review, and other venues. He currently lives in Iowa with loved ones.