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Sunday, September 20, 2015

Two refugee pieces

from my All Around What Empties Out and Blood and Soap, respectively:


Walking for several lifetimes, we finally reached that country.
A city at the end of a 24 hour bus ride.
A walk across the street.
Oakland by the Seine.
The Trenton of the East.
The skyscrapers resembled adobe huts from afar,
And a well-paved road appeared as a river.
I ordered food by gesturing,
And asked for directions by gesturing,
And watched TV inside a well-lit coffin.
The earth is our stewardship, the dung beetle declared.
This far below the mirror’s surface,
Only cowards can survive.
I’ve lived my whole life by this speed bump, Sir,
And know every nook of this stinking alley.
A provincial often thinks himself superior to a cosmopolitan
Because he knows every nook of a stinking alley.
And I’ve been married for a century to this fire hydrant.
My dream is to travel to the dim continent,
If only for an afternoon.
Someday soon I hope to return
To the hamlet of the dozing fathers,
Where porch swings provide easy refuge
From the cares of the day,
And the movie house shows cartoons on Saturday.

My Grandfather the Exceptional

This is a true story about my grandfather: He walked a thousand miles from his native village. He did not intend to go that far. He had wanted to walk maybe one, at most two miles, but, before he knew it, he had walked a thousand miles from his native village. After every mile there appeared a new village, each one utterly different from any place he had seen before. At each village he settled down until they either threatened or politely asked him to move on. He would work at whatever job was available. He was, at various times, a barber, a woodcutter, a sculptor, a slave, a moneylender, a beggar, a politician, a policeman, a thief. He learnt new customs, new slang, new ways of standing up, of sitting on a chair, of sneezing, of scratching his nose. He got new haircuts. Without being aware of it, he learnt to dissimulate his true likes and dislikes. He became overeager to please. He also became hyper-conscious of every single detail of his increasingly abnormal body. He accrued many unpleasant nicknames. Occasionally he would fall in love, be rejected, reject in turn, propose, get married, father children, legitimate and illegitimate, divorce, then reconcile. Once he was drafted into an army and fought bravely against an enemy whom he half suspected to be men from his original village. (He was captured by these enemies, then repatriated in a prisoner exchange.) At another village he was anointed a poet laureate although he could not speak the local language. Finally, at his last village, he looked around and was relieved to find out he was no longer exceptional. Because all old men look alike, disgusted and disgusting, he was finally welcomed into the fraternity of those waiting to die.



Al M said...

Because all old men look alike, disgusted and disgusting, he was finally welcomed into the fraternity of those waiting to die.

WOW, how profound is this sentence?

Linh Dinh said...

Hi AI M,

I'm stumbling, not so gracefully, into the fraternity! Looking into your blog, I just read about the infuriating incident below. What a miserable man that bus drive is. One has to feel sorry for his wife and children.--Linh

Trimet riders complaint posted to Facebook
Toby Robboy

Today I was on the 75 bus at Hollywood TC around 12:30, when the driver got off the bus to use the bathroom. While he was gone, a woman got off to have a cigarette. When the driver got back, she tried to follow him back on the bus, but he slammed the door in her face. At this point, an 11-year-old child stood up and asked him to let her in, explaining that she was his mother. The driver completely ignored him and started driving. The kid started pleading and crying, and other people shouted at the driver to stop, but he kept driving until we got to the next stop, several blocks away.

He then demanded that the kid get off the bus. The kid told him his stuff was still back at the seat. The driver kept shouting that his mother shouldn't have gotten off the bus if he didn't want him to leave her behind. Eventually she showed up, having run the whole distance with a baby and stroller, and he shouted at her. She pointed out that he was the one who stopped to use the bathroom, and he snapped, "You wait for me, I don't wait for you!" It would have taken him literally a matter of seconds to let her on back at the bus stop. He chose to waste several minutes and terrify a child instead, in order to prove his asshole point. By the way, the child was black and the mother was white - though I'm sure that has nothing to do with it, right?


Anonymous said...


The last poem, the true story of your grandfather, is most excellently written.

Thanks for sharing your poetry and stories on this website.


Linh Dinh said...

Hi Leo,

Thanks! I'm very glad you like the piece. From early 1999 to early 2004, I lived in Vietnam and Italy, with only six months in between in the US. Both of these pieces were written then. Though hardly a refugee during this period, I was adrift. During my two years in Italy, I also strayed into nearby countries, and so I was often in an alien environment.

Going from France to Italy, I stopped in Switzerland for a quick look around. Leaving, I heard Italian spoken at the Geneva station and felt comforted because I knew I was almost home.

In Corsica, I looked at some weather beaten balconies invisible from street level and also felt at home because they reminded me of Saigon.

The chaos of Naples also reminded me of Saigon.

In Vietnam and Italy, I rarely saw Americans but they, too, reminded me of home.


dave deifer said...

Thanks for posting these poems Linh. Cheers to your appointment in Singapore, outstanding as always homie!

Linh Dinh said...

Thanks a lot, Dave. I'm leaving for Leipzig on Monday. I'm looking forward to being in Europe. It's been a while.

Elizabeth said...

Like others have said, the last line is killer, but the core line is in the core: "Without being aware of it, he learnt to dissimulate his true likes and dislikes."

Great poems, Linh! How's the German lessons goin?

Linh Dinh said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I don't think my tongue and vocal chord were designed for the German language, but I'm forging ahead anyway. Fumbling with a new language, you rearrange your mental furniture, so at least I'm reaping that benefit.

It's interesting that wedding in German is just Hochzeit, literally "high time."

The Vietnamese call an alligator a cá xấu, an "ugly fish"...


Al M said...

I wasn't expecting a response Linh!

I'm honored !


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007), Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009) and A Mere Rica (2017), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.