Bags of ice drip from the back of a small bike
in Vietnam. The exhaust pipe rumbles. The man
sweats. My tongue melts. We are lucky we are not tiny
starving polar bears slipping off the last refuge
of ice into the black asphalt. The open
ocean. Or I should say we are lucky
the coming flood is incremental.
We are lucky to share this moment—
him delivering the bags of ice
before they melt, and me having returned
to my parents’ birthplace, which is to me
an almost-home in that I am almost
melting. An old woman sells a child
a snack. Her mother hands her some cash.
The old woman doesn’t melt. The bike
doesn’t melt. We are lucky to be held
together by bodies which are so difficult
to melt. We are similar in our almost-melting,
just as the sounds of the café I am sitting in
almost melt into me the way a song’s name sits
on the tip of your tongue when you can’t
remember it. I will never fully know
the sounds because I am lucky to have left
the melting: my mother lucky
to have a family that didn’t need to sell
dried pieces of squid on the street,
which is a thing I almost-understand—
the old woman squatting in the street.
In Vietnam I am the piece of ice
that stays on the bike. I am the child
chewing on the dried squid. I am lucky
it is dead and cannot escape into the wet
air, where the Vietnamese people swim
and their voices distort just slightly—I can
almost understand them. I can almost
piece my tongue back together.
I can almost stop the melting.
there is nothing left
when I think of you
a tiny human steps inside me
and unravels the plastics
I have tossed to the wild
people pour small buckets of water
to keep the whale alive
all of us together can’t push it back
we lift our hands to the moon
to ask for a stronger tide
if I was huge I could cup it
pluck it from the earth like a tulip
every day I say I am fine
my nose grows bigger
I tug on my strings
the marionettist doesn’t answer
the whale doesn’t move
the sea fills its stomach
with things that cannot sing
I am told it is easier
to trust me
if I show you
for a moment
how the rib cage
looks like a second
pair of hands
this a sleight
of hand. And
imagine that beneath
you can see
that it beats
for you. And then.
And then it stops.
Not the heart
but the imagining.
How easy is it to pretend
to be something
else. It is easy
to breathe life
into something inanimate.
The hard part
is keeping it alive.
Take, for instance,
my hands. I have taken
them back from you,
but now I don’t know
where to put them.