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by Dao Strom


What to make of the birds that live inside the airport terminal?


Endemism is the ecological state of a species being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation, country, or other defined zone or habitat—organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are found elsewhere. So I come here in hopes I will see you only here. 


* * *


Small birds fluttering around inside the airport terminal at Tan Son Nhat, nowhere near any windows that open. Although the windows give illusion of sky in abundance of access. The obvious curiosity of course is how did they get inside, into this world of the transient humans-in-waiting? and what do they eat? how do they sustain themselves in such a place? how does a bird fathom how corridors work? or were they born in the terminal from the start, in a nest built by a lost, caught-wandering mother? 

* * *


There are times when the fabric tears, times when a window slides ajar. Effacements of glass. What enters?


Peaceful swift, where is your mother?




Here is a photo, taken by a son of his mother. I think in this moment I am explaining to him how to trick the auto-meter of the camera by aiming it first at the ground or at a darker spot, before raising it to take a picture of a backlit subject. This is how you make the sky explode. This is how you make discernible the face of a figure who is turned away from the source of light. This is how you circumvent the given settings.


To live. To leave. 

To leave to live.

We left.

Leaving. Leaves behind.

Leafs. Through. 

We left.

Through the east gate.

We left leaves

Or the shadows of. 

Dancing with light.

On the ground.

Is this living.

(Is leaving living.)

(Is living leaving.)









]  and the shadow of the self 



in patterns of light, ascended across stones. Does thought really occur in circular particles and why do we characterize it as such? I think that thought is fragment as much as it is flow, and may be both simultaneously. A woman at a reading once responded to my explanation—about writing in fragments toward an attempt at a cohesive whole—with a derisive tone. Her concept of wholeness being un-contestable or: failure of simultaneity in the workings of her mind, I leave it as, and take leave of it as. I leave:

                                                                                                    one shoulder, one ear, one side of my neck, merged with the shadows of leaves.


]  to the cleavage of the world and its beauty


]  to be born into a church to which you are inherently heathen 


]  she let me be baptized under the name “Mary” in order probably not to rock any more boats


]  Funny how I’ve placed us in a boat


Sometimes, un-thinking, her tongue slips, and she speaks a single phrase in Vietnamese. The language her children cannot understand her in. What this reveals, I think, is how much she must be most of the time vigilantly keeping at bay. And what brings it on for her, this slippage, this momentary letdown, this relinquishing, in effect, of the vigilance of English, for the unconscious reemergence of the tenderer language? We are driving down a street in Portland, Oregon. Or, more precisely, I am driving, she is in the passenger seat; she is visiting me. We have not been talking about anything. And then. But she does not follow up or translate or catch herself. So—I can’t help myself—I point it out to her. Do you realize you just spoke to me in Vietnamese? Sometimes her response to moments like these will be defensively coy: Yeah, and so what? I ask her what did she just say. Something about the leaves of the passing-by trees—the trees we are driving beneath, the leaves scattering their shadows across our laps—that they are pretty.


She used to dream in Vietnamese, she says.




To me, endemism means: you never left; no one ever carried any part of you away. 


I have read about caves so large they manufacture their own clouds. 


No one who travels can be endemic.


Don’t be fooled by what you believe must have light to live.

Dao Strom.jpg

Dao Strom is the author of a bilingual poetry/art book, You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else (Ajar Press, 2018), which was a finalist for the 2019 Firecracker Award in Poetry; an experimental memoir, We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People + music album East/West (2015), and two books of fiction, The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys (2006) and Grass Roof, Tin Roof (2003). Her work has received support from the Creative Capital Foundation, NEA, RACC, Precipice Fund, Oregon Arts Commission, and others. She is the editor of diaCRITICS.


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