It sounded like the name of some place
in Belgium, or a trick word at a spelling bee.
We learned its meaning as guests stood by
& watched her unwrap the packages that contained
the small vases and cups, presents from family
or friends who’d come back from the old country.
She set them on shelves in the secretary where
they trembled and shook when the trains went past.
She never let on to her secret: that she didn’t care
for things like that, city-made, fragile, proper,
that she preferred the brown and white round pots
with the name of her village gobbed on in thick dark letters.
She placed them on the shelves next to the delicate cups and vases.
Nights we woke in our beds to hear them moving,
knew them by their low raspy voices & pub coughs,
their rude and inappropriate tauntings.
Kevin Bowen is director of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and its Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His most recent collections are Eight True Maps of the West (Dedalus Press, Dublin), Six Vietnamese Poets (Curbstone Press), and Early Zen Poems from Vietnam, with Nguyen Duy and Nguyen Ba Chung (Saigon Cultural Publishing House). (updated 10/2006)