Poetry: Two Poems by Mai Der Vang

Mai Der Vang stands out as a poet of stunning & lurid language. These two new poems exemplify the work displayed in her debut collection, Afterland (Graywolf Press 2017)—the geographies of grief & the bare evidence of spiritual truth. Vang, with linguistic dexterity, carves out lush spaces for the reader to encounter the dislocation of their very ability to make images from her words.


Grove of Stones

From the courtyard
Of lips banished,

I leave with a century
Of nettle,

A zither bleeding
In my spine

Wearing the burnished light
Of your late peach.

I’ll take what we were chiseled,
A room that had
No summer,

Magnet repose along the suitcase morgue.

My quartz condition spills
The reflection of your fingerprint.

I will come back for you
When the hull begins to unlock.



Year of the Tornado

This is the day to confirm that every star
Is a brilliant seed on its way to becoming

A pumpkin. It is the morning to cushion
Uncertainty with a tyrannosaurus heartbeat,

A night to trust in the beauty of ice cubes
Dazzling as they do. This is the situation

In which a child on a beach carries a bucket
Of sand dollars, how they must have once

Napped moisturized in the high tide. It is
The success of candles spiraling on a

Chantilly Cake. This is the sunrise to be
Quiet for, to only ever ask for one’s shoes.

Then comes a condition of stirring from every
Utterance of dust, a status that calls for a

Furnace of tornadoes, sanctuary seen through
Glass panes. Then comes horsepower of vocal

Chords to vacuum a country’s illness. Then doubt
No longer breathes. Only the sureness, the full-

Bodied promise for all eyes to hear, for every
Set of hands to stomp noisier than the next.



Mai Der Vang

Mai Der Vang is the author of Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), which received the Walt Whitman Award winner from the Academy of American Poets. She will serve as a 2017-2018 Visiting Writer on the faculty of the MFA Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in PoetryVirginia Quarterly ReviewNew Republic, and elsewhere. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. As an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, she is co-editor of How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. Mai Der has received residencies from Hedgebrook and is a Kundiman fellow.

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