Second Name

1.

When the revolution ended,
history was rewritten.
The victor penned Sài Gòn
her second name—
her boulevards relabeled,
buildings gutted, new
monuments erected,
and a yellow star dipped
in blood unfurled
above her rooftops—
but those who loved her,
will always love
her as Sài Gòn. To those
who conquered her,
she became the Other.

 

2.

When history was rewritten,
I had just learned to walk.
In Sa Đéc, they called me
bourgeois enemy. Nine years of silent
disobedience. Waiting.
I learned the cost of freedom.
At Phanat Nikhom they tagged
me refugee. In blind, immigration
lines across a foreign continent,
they stamped my chest alien.
Seven years with a new tongue
before America certified
me her citizen. I carried
on my person the baggage
of a second name
for my second self, finding
small remembrances in the kitchens
of old San José: salty clay pot
catfish, bitter melon soup,
and sweet jasmine rice.
A splash of nước mắm added
homesickness to every bite.

 

3.

When I returned to Sài Gòn,
they classified me Việt Kiều
that emotional limbo
between native and foreigner.
Names and labels inked
my passport pages. Not one of us,
they claimed. Aren’t I
Lê Mỹ Huyền Trân—
con rồng cháu tiên?
Four words that stretch
like a river back
to the beginning. Its source,
ancient cave trickles.
Its bed, stinky black mud
where lotus roots burrow.
Its mouth, the roar of typhoons.
My river dammed, rerouted
each time I was rewritten,
but I’m no Other.

~ by Samantha Lê

__

First published in Spring Mother Tongue

Copyright © 2017 by ​Samantha Lê
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please use the contact form.

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