“History Lesson From Anh Hai”

A weekly poem, read by the author.
Feb. 19 2013 9:18 AM

“History Lesson From Anh Hai”

"Seeing", Digital Collage, 2002.

Collage by Monica Ong

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Duy Doan read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.

I spoke to Great-Aunt tonight. She sounded like her sister.
It had been fifty years since they’d last spoken; mom said they cried over the phone.
Bà Nội used to always tell me đi tu đi con. But I know
The difference between tu and tù is one mark.

Fifty years since they’d last spoken; mom said they cried.
The night father braved the jungles, Bà Nội also cried.
The difference between tu and tù is one mark.
Once I heard about a monk who died setting himself on fire.

Bà Nội cried the night father braved the jungles.
They were bad times. A nun and monk were made to fornicate in the street.
Once I heard about a monk who set himself on fire.
Twenty years later the rodent problem—200 đồng per severed tail.

They were bad times. A nun and monk made to fornicate in the street.
Bà Nội used to always say đi tu đi con. But I know.
Twenty years later the rodent problem—200 đồng per severed tail.
I spoke to Great-Aunt tonight. She sounded like Bà Nội.

Glossary

Anh Hai: older brother, the oldest son 
Bà Nội: paternal grandmother
đi tu đi con: enter the priesthood; become a monk
tu: priesthood
tù: prison

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