—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’
—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.
if I say it out loud
I will cast a curse.
I’m not sure who
who are smarter
than me, talk
about a circle
of violence, or
a violent circle
or a birthday cake
with a child’s face
or a carousel
or a castle
of hands, an entire
I’m told to be open
to the possibility
of not being
a monster, not a thing
from under a bed.
Some spells take years
to cast. Some men
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.