Once my father cried out for death and I always think
he was asking me. I didn’t kill my father but I could have
called more. How do you distinguish a gift from an apology?
A bruise from a bruise? Saltwater to slough the raw
from your throat. Turmeric paste and a butterfly bandage
so your cheek won’t scar much. The language your mother
kept like a cipher hoping to save you the burden
of unlearning. The gold you didn’t know about,
sold for a camera. Your father’s tuba, sold for a house
that sold at a loss. No one lives there anymore
but a broken birdsong clock. My apartment is only clean
because it’s empty. Sometimes I have to think
about what I would miss most about being alive.
My mother’s cơm sườn. Mashed potatoes and half a grapefruit
at the place setting for my father’s ghost. Don’t tell me to relax.
It’s always life or death. Lies in my diary. Hiding the sharps.
Trying to call back an ambulance. I’m tired. I’m prowling Chinatown
ordering frog legs I can’t finish alone in the in-between tongue
I use with my mother. I’m crowing a name into the waning light
and I don’t know who I’m singing to and I suppose that’s always been
the problem. What I’m trying to say is: sometimes when I listen to a song
I love, I panic and I imagine a time when I can never listen to a song again,
no matter how bad I need to. Canary in a coal mine. My mother in white
for the rest of her days. Bitter squash climbing a trellis for roses.
Imagine a room all ache. Imagine a room with nothing in it.
Imagine a room with no door. That’s this, almost.
I am alone and no one is watching me finish my congee,
watching me put on my brother’s clothes. No one is watching
her arm halve the air, no one is watching me still like prey,
make fists after. Now I’m afraid of everything and everyone
looks at me. I don’t know who I am except when I’m hiding.
I get high and think about less dangerous ways to die
like learning to skateboard and continuing to put off learning
to swim. The truth is, I can stroke. I can crawl.
If you got me on my back I would chart a new ocean
but I can’t tread water.
I let the cat in while I pee and I say it’s because she’s lonely.
I know nothing about clean. Every morning I wake up and pray
that today I won’t be an albatross. Which is worse: that I keep
my father’s knife on the windowsill, that I don’t know
what he did with it, or that I don’t know why I don’t just throw it away?
I have been mined for fool’s gold and I would like
to say they knew what they were getting:
canyon crater navel, reaching root of scar,
an orange peeling open underground. I’m sorry.
How does anyone believe in anything they can’t kill?
I would like very much to believe in love.
I would like very much to believe in this body,
but I know better. Last year I held my throat
shut. Last year I told my heart to stop.
In May I got a mirror and in October I hung it up.
Theo LeGro is a Vietnamese-American poet in Brooklyn. Their work has appeared in Rust + Moth, Juked, and elsewhere, with work forthcoming in Bodega.