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by Paul Tran

Newton’s First Law of Motion

There’s a photograph

    of us hanging

in the kitchen—

    Crisp denim shirt



    his redwood


    birthday cake

with strawberry



I blow out

    two .99 store

candles—A wish

    that’ll never

come true—


    A wish that begins

Please Please


and ends

    Stop Stop Stop—


I unwrap

    his gift—Replica

of the plane

    he rode

out of that divided country


    where the woman

he loved

    before he loved

my mother

    remains buried


in a city

    whose real name

only its exiled





of kapok trees—

    Kingdom without kings—

I drag the plane’s motor




    its internal spring

like particles

    in a thermobaric



    Fuel-air bomb

sucking oxygen

    from his lungs—

His five kids—




    daring them

to devour each other—

   I release it—



    time—Domino effect—

An object in motion

    stays in motion—

The past driving us



at the same speed—

    Same direction—

Unless acted upon

    by an unbalanced



    The plane soars

across the table

    into my mother’s lap—

It detonates—    

    She laughs—


Because I’m my mother’s son, I leave the arrow

in my throbbing heart. What kills me keeps me

alive. I forgive nothing, forget nothing. Revenge,

no matter how or when, is my only satisfaction.

Consider a glass saucer of apple cider vinegar

on the table overnight, a fleet of drowned fruit

flies in the morning. Consider my father’s face

snipped from photographs, smothered without

protest in a grocery bag. Consider my mother

and I cleaning our apartment early each Sunday,

My Immortal on the radio, animating the dead

space between us, nerve-pinching silence within

which we attend to our lives, reorganizing this

museum of decadent suffering, this performance

of union. Consider us scrubbing the musk of sleep

from every sheet, sweeping away our footsteps,

stretching plastic over the couch, the computer,

shining the fancy plates we never use but aspire to

as though our immaculate illusion redeems the filth

of being human, our attempts to outlast our fate

by forcing evidence of our existence on the world.

Consider existence an underestimated vengeance.

This is why, betrayed by her country, by everyone

she knows, her only child hoping to be adopted

by a white family, to be a little white girl or boy

so spotless that nobody dares to foul it, my mother

denies everything afflicting her its brutal power

by exterminating her attachments like roaches.

Consider her obsessive sanitation not a symptom

but a skill set of expulsion: how she disappears

blood from blade, my body splayed like a headless

Barbie on the bathroom floor, wrists slashed into

mouths shouting what I couldn’t, what I’m told

didn’t ever occur. Consider how she beats me

straight with a snakeskin belt, says I’m nothing

like my father because I belong to a war-woman,

and that’s love: possession, my mother preparing

me for victory the way our ancestors drilled iron-

tipped spikes into the ancient Bạch Đằng River,

skewering Southern Han attackers like thịt nướng,

their blue carcasses pruning in low tides, ending

a thousand years of domination, the Long Eclipse.

Farewell with Drones & Fried Chicken

He doesn’t eat,

just watches.


Lightning Bug


the Trường Sơn Trail,


remote killer

ruled by another

bloodless source.


Even abstinence is deadly.


His reticence

evaluating me:


Three-piece meal

with Dr. Pepper

and a biscuit.


The sickening



To nourish is also to neglect.


My father drops me off

at Kensington Park

with box of KFC leftovers.


The red light.


His van

pulling away.


I didn’t know

it was the last time

I’d ever see him.


I didn’t know

it hurts being seen.

Paul Tran is the Poet In Residence at Urban Word NYC. Their work appears in Prairie Schooner, MTV, RHINO, which gave them an Editor's Prize, and elsewhere. Paul is the first Asian American in almost twenty years to represent the Nuyorican Poets Cafe at the National Poetry Slam and Individual World Poetry Slam, where they placed Top 10.

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