Boat People

After Ocean Vuong


Don’t ask why we came.

Ask why we left.

Some say the story ends in liberation,

but there was no end,

only the horizon.

In the distance,

a military ship.

Men dove into the water

like fish eager for home.

But I,

who had learned to escape,

not swim,

remained onboard.

Safety was already far behind us.

And in front,

a soldier.

One finger on the trigger,

the rest clawing through my bag.

Our compass buried at the bottom

of a rice bowl.

Your father, a boy of seventeen

with a twist in his leg,

passed the time

in the nape of my neck.

No one could know us now.

I was so hungry for a new life

that I had swallowed the paper trail.

There are no heroes in this version,

only survivors.

I’ve always been that kind of person,

the kind to remember the way things were

yet still forget to be afraid.

Don’t feel bad, my dear.

These aren’t tears —

just the ocean left in my eyes.

You could never love Vietnam,

for you are a December child,

and to return to that country

is to step into summer forever.

But do not think you could come

from anywhere else.

You look like me

after all.      

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