DUY DOAN Three Poems

First-person Plural

When my brother
and sisters and I talk about Vietnamese

we’re ghosts
reminiscing about facial expressions

and what it was like to have teeth and skin.
Is it the lock’s
rattling home we
miss? The bald
spoon soundlessly departing the mouth?

Em –
I had a younger
brother, I had dominion over him. Em –
I had a younger sister,
I hardly ever looked at her.

Getting hit
never made us
any closer.

Chị, you’re the oldest,
you go first.

You were scared you’d lose your hearing,

then your hair;

gaining too much weight, and then losing too much.

Anh who won and lost a lot at cards, Chú who
tried to stop him. Mấy em who may
or may not have sensed loss

through talk about the weather, people

at their parents’ work.

Mẹ told me about
each of anh’s
relapses over the phone; she could make
it one week before telling any of us. Bố
neither confirmed nor denied any of this.

Ông Nội existed in a celestial
manor; untouched,
starch-calloused collar,
punctual cough.
He knew. Or,
he didn’t.

Bác who is wise, who has more wisdom
than our parents.

gave me a foreign coin once. I don’t remember
the denomination.

We trade pronouns like currency.
52 Pickup until there are no betas left.

Út who picked up the cards until we got too
old for that game,

or up until the last time we were
all in a car together. Anh, chị, em,

mình –
Some birds mistook
us for food humans once. None of us knew
what to call them.

– little brother, little sister, or little cousin
Chị – older sister or older female cousin
Anh – older brother or older male cousin
Chú – uncle
Mấy em – little cousins
Mẹ – mother
Bố – father
Ông Nội – paternal grandfather
Bác – uncle or auntie (older than our parents)
– auntie (younger sister of our father)
Út – youngest in the family



Tội Nghiệp, cat

With your one eye, your only eye, at a safe distance, you bat
at your sister, making contact just
above her eyeliner.


The week of the Champions League Final, three times you
snuck past me through the

front door. I took it to mean Messi
would steal behind United’s back four

and score.


Every morning around five:
a few pill bottles, the Ott-Lite, a coffee
mug. Crepuscular

motherfucker. I wonder if you’ll ever
let me get to six a.m.


In Vietnam I think they would’ve called
you little tiger. I think you would’ve made
some farmer a little money.

Severed rat tails by the bunch saving rice crops.


With a gob of turkey fat in your mouth
you leap down off
the counter.

Mighty hunter. The other cats never
take their eyes off you.



Bridge Ghosts

Ma (ghost)

Truth was furthest from a lie we ever got in the lifetime.


Má (mom)

Every bridge in this province runs East and West.

The spirits in these firecrackers
have no ancestors here anymore.


Mà (although, but)

Smoke is only a symbol.
Try to reunite them. Start by finding a mother.
Here comes one who sweeps
the paper and the ash.



Duy Doan
is the author of We Play a Game, winner of the 2017 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. His work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Poetry, Slate, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. A Kundiman fellow, Doan received an MFA in poetry from Boston University.