This is what it means to wake up
the morning after calamity:
to watch the light spill
your dying body dragged
from the comforting embrace of endings;
to know the next season comes
even on the heels of desperation;
to hear newborn children
laugh life into their lungs
and the earth steadfast
beneath a collapsing body;
to watch your home burn at dusk
and set to building another at daylight;
to stand on broken glass
and hell-spun fire;
to taste the prayer
in every meal;
to touch your hand to your stomach,
a pulse pushing back;
to sit, singing
in the belly of the beast;
to raise shelter in the onslaught
of the unforgiving;
to swallow starlight
when night rains upon the earth.
This is what it means to breathe today:
to be heaven-willed,
to be worthy of heartbeat,
to hold Redemption’s trembling hand –
As the daughter of refugees, securing my own autonomy and place in the world is crucial to establishing my own sense of home and belonging, especially in the face of intertwining patriarchal and imperialist structures. The premise of the Roe v. Wade decision reaffirms this importance of autonomy as a primary factor in guaranteeing individual freedoms, serving as one of many foundations which contribute to the shared idea of what an ideal American life might look like for families and individuals both new to the country and established.
This poem is equally fierce and soft. Do Nguyen Mai beautifully displays, as if her stanzas are each their own exhibits at a museum, the various emotions that bubble up in the face of adversity and the optimism it takes to face a day that holds such uncertainty.
Bio and Links
A Southern California native, Do Nguyen Mai is a Vietnamese American poet and digital campaigner. She is the executive editor of Rambutan Literary and the author of Ghosts Still Walking.