Poetry: Two Poems by Steven Duong

Steven Duong’s poetry ripens with bodies, the struggle of skin—and he uses them as locus centers from which he can reach out to disparate realms of the universe and time to make new things of the old: ancient Rome and Vietnam, graveyards and koi ponds, sickness and the bloom of nature.

the heat death of the universe between your aorta and your pulmonary artery

i believe you when you tell me

an aching body intends

to bloom             today i feel choked

groves of bamboo struggling to evacuate

me             seeking asylum

by piercing             the way a secret buried in the body

exits first through the eyes

then the wrists             the pond in my skull

a graveyard             the koi i stocked it with swallowed

by the largest             the mind is

++++++++a cannibal

when it needs to be             the swollen carp surfaces

like an ambulance rounding the corner

++++++++on the day it came for you we snapped

at each other until you capsized             your breath

swam off             for the first time i saw

the heart of your illness as more than the white line

partitioning your back             i felt victorious

then fatal             was your oxygen mask a fishing boat

or an escape vessel             did nero

play the lyre as he

watched saigon burn             did your anh hai have a pen

on him when he peopled

the boat and left you ashen             when do you feel most

ill             do you see yourself

dangling from rooftops

the way i do             should i take my own advice

like crushed hydrocodone          can you

++++++++hold me tight ma




self-portrait as patent ductus arteriosis 

you had your first taste of recovery / sometime after / the heat death / of the universe between your aorta & your pulmonary artery / a lucky sort of collapse / it landed you / right where you wanted to be / which is to say / not saigon / not sick / at least not as sick as you were in saigon / do you remember how it felt / on your lips / your tongue / the hollow room of your breath / it must taste so good in real time / the time between breaths / the time at which breath emigrates / freely from the body / is still so foreign to me / i wish i was home for tet / this year / i wish i could bless myself into unopened envelopes / firecrackers / tipsyred smiles / the way salt / blesses itself into a wound / i wish a blessing was more than a wish / cut fresh each year / wrapped in a crisp twenty / i wish i could tell you i’ve scarred / in the year since our last tet / that every blessing on my floor is a wish / and not a crumpled history / but ma / this one fits in your hand / like a razorblade / a prayer bracelet if you hold it / tight enough.

Steven Duong

Steven Duong is a poet and writer from San Diego, California and a senior English student at Grinnell College. The recipient of a 2017 Academy of American Poets Prize, he has poems featured or forthcoming in Passages North, Salt Hill, Pleiades, Diode Poetry Journal, Poets.org, Rust+Moth, Columbia Poetry Review, and other venues. As a 2019 Thomas J. Watson Foundation Fellow, he will soon be embarking on a year-long writing project called "Freshwater Fish and the Poetry of Containment" in Malawi, China, Thailand, and Trinidad and Tobago. Right now, he lives with his lovely friends in Iowa.

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