Hieu Minh Nguyen

Again. Again.



—perhaps I do want children

for reasons other than to appease my mother


give me a boy, a real boy this time, she says

either to me, or the chain of incense smoke


thinning into the realm where my grandmother sits

chewing on betel leaf, her teeth stained black


& I’m sure it’s not, but maybe my mother’s desire

for grandchildren has something to do with lineage


or maybe it has something to do with regret & how

for the longest time, she knelt in front of a shrine & asked


to be blessed with a daughter & here I am: the wrong

monster; truck stop prom queen in his dirt gown


I think: If I had the answers I could answer

but I don’t—I only have a number to a man


who will come, hopefully, in the next hour

to pin me to a map of hunger, stick his knuckles


into my mouth & call me his sweet boy








Sometimes I think I could be a good father

if I don’t consider myself.


How can I love something that isn’t ruined?

Y’know most parents want the best for their children


& I’m sure I would too, if the child were real

but he isn’t.


Each morning I send him to walk the durian orchard.

Each morning he climbs the tallest tree, picks the ripest one


& carries it home to me. The fruit’s thorned shell sinking

into his bare arms. Each day, when he returns


he is covered in holes. I stick a coin in each one

& send him back out for milk.








—attaboy —ay!boygoodjob-buddy ol’pal ol’chip-off-the-ol’



—likefatherlike sonofagun-bang-bang-pop-pop



—hey!batterbatterhey!batterbatter-how old are you?



—hey bartender, lemme getanother-getanother



—good ol’boy from the sky. good ol’boy from the far east

show me what the Midwest did to that rice-blood.


—waytogoCharlie! That’s how you do it. That’s how you shine

like a rocket. That’s how you get all the ladies.

Spit out the dip tucked behind your lips

& let daddy teach you how it feels to win.








—the child, too, like all dead things

is an offspring of touch.


The child hates me, but who could blame him.

We sit in silence, across from each other


at the dinner table, stripping wires

from old alarm clocks with our teeth.


Like all agony, there are pleasant moments

but only when we forget


what carried us here.

& in those moments I catch myself


being a desperate father, asking the boy

who looks too much like me


to be me, what he wants

what will make him less miserable


anything, anything you want & it’s yours

usually it’s nothing, some sunlight, maybe


but this time he takes a knife, runs

the blade across my stomach


& calls forth his siblings.








Sometimes it’s just a spider crawling up my leg

& not a hand, or the thin edge of a flame

that wakes me, or sometimes it’s my mother

on the other side of the city, talking loudly

on the phone, I think my boy is sick & I want to be better

at lying, or at least, for heaven’s sake, feel a strand

of hair graze my arm without the world around me

turning into an empty classroom, an endless row

of desks, a woman swaying at the end, her face pressed

against the chalkboard, but let me start the story over

for someone once told me that “touch” is too soft

a word to describe what happened to me & maybe

they’re right, so maybe it started earlier, the woman

spending her whole life without hands, an egg

at the end of each wrist, so let’s say that’s true

let’s say, the eggs hatched & found the closest thing

to call home & here I am, today, years later, the host

of touch, a boy who lets the spider crawl onto his face

before smacking it dead.








—the children (& there are thousands

now) in order not to wake me

take turns dropping a single grain of sand

on my body. They do this for hours, days

lost in a valley of rot.








I’m afraid

if I say it out loud

I will cast a curse.


I’m not sure who

but people

who are smarter

than me, talk

about a circle

—a circle

of violence, or

a violent circle

or a birthday cake

with a child’s face

or a carousel

of hands

or a castle

of hands, an entire

mountain, maybe.

I’m told to be open

to the possibility

of not being

a monster, not a thing


from under a bed.

Who knows?

Some spells take years

to cast. Some men

don’t know

they’re hungry

until they eat




Because I didn’t want to do anything

I got on my knees & offered him

the easy currency of my mouth—

I don’t want to explain a thing

but if I have to, I want to make clear

I knew, if I just asked him to leave

he would have, but I didn’t want him

to come all that way for nothing.

He showed up & that meant something

I think. Who am I to care?

Who am I to turn away anything as simple

as hunger? What is my body

if not wet collateral? & then he said

I can’t get off on just head

so I let him fuck me face down on the carpet

while I counted the loose

change under the dresser & that only

feels important to mention

because, later I used it buy him a sandwich

I don’t think he even touched.






I’ve learned quickly, there are countless ways to open

a carcass, silence too, is one. I can’t say for sure

but I think I’m bored with loneliness

or at least the music it supplies: bodies thrashing.

It harder than it looks. Opening & closing.

Doing whatever it takes to pull that bright crescendo

into the humming dark. I imagine my hands: wreckless

running up & down his cock, a pair of scissors

curling the ribbon of his blood.






Dumb, I know, but still, I let the strange man spend the night.

I know his type. He won’t do anything unless I ask. So I ask.


All I’ve ever wanted to be was useful. I can’t stop talking about desire.

I used to think of it as a pane of glass I would press my face against


& then one day it came, one day I fell through

the glass or the boy or the men in their many faces


until I was just a thin coat of leather on everyone’s teeth.






Listen, I understand there’s still time to be saved

there’s always someone waiting to name your story.

Shut up! I know the story, or at least the lesson:


the hand, the stove top—except I’m not sure

if I’m the hand or stove top. Maybe I’m looking at it

all wrong. Maybe I should admit I do know

what I’m doing. He’ll leave soon & I’ll be just fine.


I’ll be just fine.






The man wakes me up by slipping a finger inside.


I don’t move away, can’t go back to sleep


until he’s done. It would be too easy


to make him leave, to roll on my back


to scream out the open window, but instead


I laugh & say, you won’t find it—you won’t


find whatever you’re looking for. 


HIEU MINH NGUYEN is the author of This Way to the Sugar (Write Bloody Press, 2014). Hieu is a Kundiman fellow and a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine. His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in the Southern Indiana Review, Guernica, Ninth Letter, the Adroit Journal, Bat City Review, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. His second collection of poetry, Not Here, is forthcoming on Coffee House Press in 2018. He lives in Minneapolis.