Paul Tran

Refugee Abecedarian

Refugee Abecedarian

       Crows over
          a blazing basilica.

Companario exploding
          with smoke. Bells swinging
   like sapphire wings
               at daybreak
       or dusk.

Nobody can tell the beginning from the end.

          Only a sunbaked river
                 stacked heaven-
               high with ash.

Only Cuyamacas wearing Reclining Buddha's gold robe.

       Golden Hills that called conquistadors
across Death Valley,
          across blood-
               soaked centuries.
       Cortés,
          Cabrillo:
   men thinking they own everything
they see, everything
          their sex invades.

   My father blasting through the doorway.

My mother's velvet dress
          a blue flame running
       away from him.

   She pulls me into the closet.
Her packed suitcase.

          Stay, she says.
                 I stay.

I recite my English
       for Today. My reflex alphabet.

   ABCD—as in don't.
                 Don't leave. Me
darting down the hall.

       My mother face down
   on the ground.
               E—like an emptied river
clutching a stack of letters.
       F—as in from my father's fiancé.

               My father ripping them
from her.
       G—as in grip,
               as in gas stove and
          H—him, a magician
turning each missive into a murder
   of crows. Feathery fumes
                 flapping
          like church bells
               summoning the faithful
       and unfaithful
          to worship,
   to war,
               towing their ships
                 towards shores
       they'll never reach, shores already discovered.

       I—child
   instructed to remain no matter what
the wreckage might be. A child
   perfecting loss
          and language
       in the same exhale.

JK—as in Kent, as in
               Clark Kent: Superman
       name my father found on television
          to be Super American, to make
               blood out of women.

   L—as in women with lemongrass names
fragrant as Death
          Valley's decadal Desert
   Gold.
       Its Gravel
Ghost. Women he'll never come home to,
          writing him from across an ocean.
   MN—as in women he'll never marry
                 or make love to
       in a country that no longer exists.

Country baptizing him:
          Việt Kiều
       or Traitor
               or O—as in H.O.
          as in Humanitarian Operation,
               as in Orderly
Departure Program, or

       P—as in perhaps Kent be a song
   pretty enough for them to wait,
               waste their wages
          on black and white portraits
               sealed in
parcel he purges.

       QR—as in redacts
   until all proof is gone,
               as in record destruction.

          But my mother remembers.
Her fury remembers.

   She recalls him departing
       for the country that disowned him.
Country divided
   along sunbaked river.
               Seventeenth Parallel,
          Highway of Ash.

Terrible twilights
       and sleepless dawns
   pining for a man
               cast by centuries
          of invasion.

STU—as in Studies show intimate
       partner violence occurs to express feelings
               or states of being
          that can't be put into words

Studies show victims
   Studies show significant correlation
               between witnessing
       Studies show

V—as in vanquishers mistaking the vanquished
   for property:
          maps to a territory
       and the territory.

   My mother recites each letter
               she received
during his absence,
   their aching requests
               W—as in Where.
Where have you gone?
          When are you coming back for me?

   My mother hoists her purpled body
off the ground. Her velvet dress
               now a blue inferno.

       She tackles my father.
          She wrangles the sapphire
   wings from his hands.
               Reflex.

       XYand Z—as in demilitarized zone:
closet my mother shuts me in
          while she wrestles
   our sovereignty
               from a man that thought
       he could make countries
          out of us:

Golden Hills that called our colonizers
                 to their deaths,
          that survived centuries
               of conflagration.

       And now I know

There's no language for the beginning or the end.

       Only the during
          Only an alphabet for today.

   Each letter
       containing a blood-soaked history,
a body bent over
          in prayer,
   a body bent over its prey.

Which will be us? Which will we choose, if we're lucky,
       to make the choice?

          My mother running
               into the street
       with her packed suitcase.

   Me still trapped inside.