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Where Am I From?
a poem by Hanh Bui
I am from Vietnam, my homeland,
fragmented by decades of civil war,
foreign rulers and restlessness.
My childhood, a kaleidoscope of moments in time.
Outdoor markets with sweet ripened marigold
mangoes stacked high.
Steaming bowls of pho garnished with crunchy bean
sprouts, cilantro and fresh basil.
The aroma of ginger, star anise and cinnamon
wafting through the air.
Yards of silk fabrics in shades of pastels,
hand embroidered to become beautiful o dàis
worn by pretty school girls.
Lining up with my brothers on Tet,
wearing a new o dài covered with butterflies.
Their wings rise up, from the hem of my dress r
eady to take flight.
Arms folded reciting good wishes to our elders
who are as tall as mountains.
Red-the color of luck is all around us.
Practicing in whispers,
building up the courage to say wishes aloud.
Chúc Mûng Nam Mói! Happy New Year!
I wish you good health, happiness and may you live
until you’re 100 years old!
Elders laugh with delight at children’s heartwarming words.
They reward us with lucky red envelopes.
I hold on tightly to lí xis from family and friends,
near and far with wishes for a blessed year.
Playing games in alleyways with my brothers and friends
until day becomes night,
signaling it’s time to go home.
Dogs bark, stray kittens meow,
soft fur tickling bare legs.
Cuddly kittens with warm sticky, milky tongues
licking open hands.
Chickens with red crowns roam freely.
Pecking at bits of leftover rice,
unaware of their fate.
Giggles and chattering
lighten the heaviness of the humid air in
I am from ruins transformed into petals.
beautiful, but also imperfect.
Fallen from a rose with many thorns.
Bruised, torn, but not forgotten.
Vulnerable and brave.
Sometimes lost, but always hopeful.