Written by: Jade Hidle
Punctuate and hold the wind still.
Hear the dip and the snap of Khmer in donut shops
And Thai in sushi joints sucking fish sauce, garlic, and chili from my fingers,
On the streets of Long Beach,
Homesick at home.
Vowels gallop and buck,
Your horse of a homeland running yet
Looking back toward the Pacific.
Weary of the northern accent,
You switch Duolingo to silent,
And tap on the screen glowing in the night,
As if you’re cramming for a Vietnamese business
Trip that only involves counting trees and bowls, women
Reading newspapers, stock photos of “diverse” people eating rice.
You secretly feel victorious every time you speak back to the Northern accent
In your Southern one, especially when it gives you a “100%” score anyway.
You still don’t want to skip a lesson
That lends order to something learned tumultuously,
Through scolding and prayer.
You’ve got to stay steps ahead of her
So she has the choice to carry the sounds
And their memories with her.
It tells you truths in nonsense:
“You are that goat,” “The fish bites the bicycle,” “The rich man hides my
“This is me,” “I am yours,”
“She speaks Vietnamese because she is Vietnamese.” “I am forever in the kindergarten,”
“I am still normal,” “I am not normal.”
“You are the stone,”
“Who am I?” “Your question does not have an answer.”
Its words for “you” and “me”
Are different from what you know,
And you see the gaps in your vocabulary
Because bà ngoại only had a second-grade education,
But years on the streets.
Duo reminds you of all the words
You didn’t or couldn’t name.
Your mother tried to teach it to you with the few school books she could find
And once you could read and write the first one from cover to cover
She bought you a Lego set with a square-headed blonde girl in a tank top.
But that stopped after the one time she showed up to one of your school events,
A spelling bee,
Then she and you pushed and pulled away from each other’s voices,
Overhearing, eavesdropping, trying to learn and unlearn
Then “you” becomes your baby.
The first words I whisper into your red ears are “Con ơi, Mẹ ne.”
Your coos call it out of me,
So I sing and speak to you in all the words I remember and some that I didn’t know I did,
But you always respond in English.
Until, you say, “chó” as you chase the dog.
Your grandmother laughs too much at your first words in Vietnamese,
And how your English words lilt as if tonal too--
“Bear,” rising and falling, like your great-grandmother.
She leans in too close,
Squeezes your wide nose like mine, like hers, like all the hers before us,
And I tell her “no” in both languages
So there is no meaning lost.
After that, she stays away from us for a long time,
And I feel the landscape of crafting this language
For just me and you
Widening, whistling like sand dunes.
All of this work to retrain my tongue and create a new home from ear to brain and out again,
But if it’s just for us,
What happens if you don’t want to speak to me anymore?
who am I supposed to speak it to?
Who are you to speak it to?
Will we speak to each other
Or will we be like me and her and all the hers before us?
My phone flashes with reminders
“I miss you,” it pleads.
“These reminders don’t seem to be working.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jade Hidle (she/her/hers) is the proud Vietnasmese-Irish-Norwegian daughter of a refugee. Her travel memoir, The Return to Viet Nam, was published by Transcurrent Press in 2016, and her work has also been featured in Southern Humanities Review, Poetry Northwest, Witness Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, The West Trade Review, Bangalore Review, Columbia Journal, New Delta Review, and the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network's diacritics.org. You can follow her at @jadethidle.
From Belmont Story Review Volume 6: Destination