These poems were written in memory of the American War in Vietnam. They also tell my family’s and my own experiences as a consequence of the war. Hopefully, these poems reveal the devastation, still felt today, of the American war in Vietnam and the necessity for peace.
I am tired of having five different names;
Having to change them when I enter
A new country or take on a new life. My
First name is my truest, I suppose, but I
Never use it and nobody calls me by this Vietnamese
Name though it is on my birth certificate –
Tue My Chuc. It makes the sound of a twang of a
String pulled. My parents tell me my name in Cantonese
is Chuc Mei Wai. Three soft bird chirps and they call
me Ah Wai. Shortly after I moved to the U.S., I became
Teresa My Chuc, then Teresa Mei Chuc. “Teresa” is the sound
Water makes when one is washing one’s hands. After my first
Marriage, my name was Teresa Chuc Prokopiev. After my second
Marriage, my name was Teresa Chuc Dowell. Now I am back
To Teresa Mei Chuc, but I want to go way back . Reclaim that name once
given and lost so quickly in its attempt to become someone that would
fit in. Who is Tue My Chuc? I don’t really know. I was never really her
and her birthday on March 16, I never celebrate because it’s not
my real birthday though it is on my birth certificate. My birthday is on
January 26, really, but I have to pretend that it’s on March 16 because my
Mother was late registering me after the war. Or it’s in December, the date
Changing every year according to the lunar calendar – this is the one my
Parents celebrate because it’s my Chinese birthday.
All these names and birthdays make me dizzy. Sometimes I just don’t feel like a
Teresa anymore; Tue (pronounced Twe) isn’t so embarrassing. A fruit learns to
Love its juice. Anyways, I’d like to be string…resonating. Pulled back tensely like a bow
Then reverberate in the arrow’s release straight for the heart.
It is October, when the winds of autumn blow strong in
There are over two thousand of us, sardines,
barely human and starving. We sleep on the floor and
wash ourselves with seawater. People are sick.
When someone dies from sickness, s/he is wrapped
in a blanket and tossed overboard during a Buddhist
I was only two years old and can not recollect the dying
next to me, nor can I recollect my constant coughing nor
can I recall seeing my mother’s worried countenance as she
contemplated our future. How my constant crying made
her want to jump overboard.
A proposal by someone to my mom
after the Vietnam War: Why don’t
you sell your baby, you don’t have
anything to eat?
A response by my four-year-old brother:
No, don’t sell my sister! There are lots
of cockroaches for us to eat!
When I returned to the country
eighteen years later, I saw them –
large, brown shiny tanks on the wall,
evidence of my brother’s love for me.
When I First Saw Daddy
he was like an Egyptian cat;
skinny, foraging, and stern,
just released from a Vietcong prison.
He told us he hated the color red.
Sixteen years later,
he wears a red sweatshirt and smiles.
The pin tip opening in his heart enough
to let in a driblet of red.
It’s difficult to be alone, without
a mother’s touch, in a crib like a
baby except one is not.
A son taught to live with a thirst
for a mother who loves her child though
one of his legs is too short, the other too long.
He sits, arms bent and limp, but do not
avoid him; he wants to interact. His swollen eyes
and misshapen head leans back. In a dream
Mother holds him close, as if by her embrace alone,
she will somehow right the wrong.
The chemical traveled through her placenta,
to the womb where small limbs that needed
to form couldn’t, where the tiny body,
the size of a fist, no longer knew what to do.
It was named for the orange band
around each fifty-five gallon drum.
Orange as a sunrise that permeates one’s soul,
how its rays cover the sky
and the earth with a deep orange,
rising as those bodies also rise.
the decade the rainforest died*
the deer did not
climbed into trees
that could not
the douc langur
and the white
cursed at the
as they burned
choked on the
smoke of gunpowder
as they tried
of bombs echoed the steps
as they stepped
in a forest covered
fallen trees and
bodies of animals
were washed away
with soil that could
no longer grab onto
and the wild
that were still
and AK-47s, we
why we were
killing each other
*For ten years, the U.S. Air Force flew nearly 20,000 herbicide spray missions in order to destroy the forest cover as well as agriculture lands in key areas of southern Viet Nam.
Jumping Jack: The M16 Mines
In standing position
with arms to the side,
spreading the legs
and lift arms
above the head.
Jump back into
and up again,
spreading the legs
and lifting the arms
above the head.
When a M16 landmine
is triggered, it will
spring into the air
and explode with
a capacity to level
everything in a
150 metre radius.
a further 350 metres.
from an unexploded
bomb can fetch
25,000 Vietnamese dong
for a poor family
of Quang Tri
looking for the metal
that will feed their family,
risking their lives.
in the fields think it’s
a toy they’ve found.
Nguyen was hoeing
a small piece of land
his parents gave him
when an unexploded
U.S. military bomb
and blew off both
The metal rod she holds is her wand
the deck is more than 52 cards
her suits: bombs used on both sides of the war – M14, đạp lôi, mìn muỗi
she walks in the wild fields seeking the invisible
bringing it to the surface in a strange beauty of smoke and explosion
the wager is her life or a limb
the shovel, a tongue that lifts the crumbling earth
to reach an unexploded landmine
she spreads out the dirt beneath her hands like cards
Not Worth a Bullet
A bullet is made of
copper or lead.
poured into the case.
The firing pin hits the
primer at the back of
the bullet which starts
the explosion. Altogether,
the bullet and the case are
typically about two inches in length
and weigh a few ounces.
My father said that
told him and the other
prisoners while in
that they were not worth a bullet.
They would work for the Vietcongs
and then die.
A bamboo tree is smooth, long
with roots that hold the earth
with the strong grip of green
knuckles and fingers.
They are used to build houses,
A bamboo tree can weigh sixty pounds
or more and be twenty feet tall.
The prisoners were forced to
walk barefoot up the mountains
and carry bamboo back to the camp.
Due to the weight of the bamboo,
they were only able to carry one
at a time.
Vietnam Ghost Stories
Ghost-like beings roam,
carrying the bones of the dead,
their steps heavy with the weight
of fields and fields.
And the dead too –
stories Mother tells
of the ghost with a long tongue
that licks dishes at night.
for my son –
How can I convince you
that you do have chlorophyll,
that you can take the sun’s
energy and turn it into sugar?
Produce something sweet inside of you.
Take the waste people breathe out
and make it into something that
will keep you alive, that will keep
those around you alive, create oxygen.
Why do you say that this metaphor
doesn’t work, that you don’t have
the powers of a plant, that nature
didn’t intend you that way?
Look, how you twist and turn
towards the light.
When my father kicked my violin
against the stove
there was a crash
and the wood carved
so lovingly cracked
with the force
splintered away from
the whole into silence
I was about twelve years old
remembering my father, the war
the broken neck of the violin
the collapsed bridge
severed sound vibrations
the arc of the instrument’s shoulder
I once held in my hand
and the empty curving space
that was the window to the world
I am thinking of the trajectory of circles
a wanting and needing to let go
I Took Nothing
and broke it in half.
As if mocking me,
there was an
nothing and I
felt myself falling.
I took my falling
and broke it
in half. It did
not stop the falling.
I plunge deeper.
I took this depth
and gathered it,
with all of its
put it in the wings
of a bat.
I watched it
where it screams
and listens to
from stone walls.
Today’s flowers let me inside
into their vase-shaped bodies
Today, I swim this river
with its fish and turtles
and I know the river
does not need a name
There are no memories
of dead bodies floating
or of massacres
Today, I do not feel
the blood of the dead
seep through my skin’s pores
as I swim this sacred
water of my childhood
my hair wet
The sun sparkles
around lush green
rainforests and jungles
unkilled by defoliants
stretching out their
arms as they yawn
a douc langur monkey
peers out from behind leaves
its orange hair another sun
Today is bright
and hot and tropical
the palm leaves sway
and people in their boats
with baskets of fruits
and talk float like a leaf
along with the current
A woman sits
at the end of a boat
full of freshly cut bananas
her knees to her chest
wooden paddle in
she steers and stirs