Diana Khoi Nguyen




A child doesn’t turn out the way the parent hopes,

so what’s there to love? I love you,

bumblebee. I say it to my dog. A spider hangs

in an unlit room with nothing to hold onto.

The dog stretches, the snow waits. What’s inside

him yearns to be outside, and what’s outside

wants to come in——constant and warring this holding

of the line, a body for touching, to be touched, warmth

against warmth. What separates us is suicide.

You believe it so readily. The process of transformation

consisting almost entirely of decay. When you howl

in an empty room you have to remember you’re howling

in every room, discovering again that all the rooms

are the same room, so go ahead, waste what can’t be kept.

One tenth of nothing is not nothing, but relentless

logic: a well-intentioned parent with a knife cannot

learn to love, neither can the gash in the child,

nor child herself. I brush the hair out of my dog’s

eyes and I brush it back in again. To which world

am I tethered: the one I see or the one I don’t?

Like Life





In this town, the sea is a wardrobe.

I walk to the lighthouse

to enjoy a croissant; I sit at the edge, gaze

back at town. Already a woman who isn’t me

is savoring her lunch on my balcony:

she sips from my cup, turns the pages of my book.

Does she know her dead brother, what he ate before he died?

She looks like me so exactly, I might be a notion.





Now I’m an old and future friend

of myself. I love me as a brother,

will kill me as a traitor. Die hard,

die here. It’s not a town, it is

a cemetery. There is no one who isn’t

unspent, not up ahead somewhere

like a shadow that precedes you, checking

all the corners.





My brother distrusted his own life;

I still won’t eat any meat I cook

medium-rare. I’m no fool, animals

must be leashed or held. It happens

all the time, although it never happens.

He stole garnishes off my plate,

waiting for me to notice.





Pointed scissors, blunt scissors,

thinning scissors, left

-handed scissors,

ceremonial scissors, bird

scissors, herb scissors,

surgical scissors, scissor

sister, scissors with the ears of a dog.





I dream of a wooden sailboat

passed down through generations.

One day in the town port I pass

the actual boat——brightwork, mast, and hull.

I walk down the dock to get closer and

inside smiling is a woman sunning herself,

hand extended for me to take.





Before we slid my brother into the crematory chamber,

I clasped his hands, each of us at the ends of each other’s tethers.

Even the grapefruits went in.





This morning I woke up again before my alarm.

Accept the bad dreams and the good, I say.

When I turned over and turned back the covers

I found my mouthguard lying there. I ran

my tongue over my teeth, and alarmed, put it back on.

Outside, the sea crashed below my balcony,

a small Maritime Gendarmerie boat

searching for something near the lighthouse.


Born in California, DIANA KHOI NGUYEN poems appear or are forthcoming in Poetry, American Poetry Review, PEN America, The Iowa Review, Denver Quarterly, and Gulf Coast, among others. She has also received the Fred and Edith B. Herman Award from the Academy of American Poets and Scotti Merrill Award from the Key West Literary Seminars, as well as four Bread Loaf Writers Conference scholarships, an Archie D. and Bertha H. Walker Scholarship from the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and the Lucille Clifton Scholarship from the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. A Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo fellow, she earned her MFA from Columbia University and was also a Roth Resident in poetry at Bucknell University. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of Denver.