Khanh Ha was born in Hue in Vietnam. His debut novel is FLESH (June 2012, Black Heron Press). He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. He is at work on a new novel. His short stories have appeared in Outside in Literary & Travel Magazine, Red Savina Review (RSR), Cigale Literary Magazine, Mobius, DUCTS, and forthcoming in the summer issues of Glint Literary Journal, Lunch Ticket, Zymbol, Taj Mahal Review, The Underground Voices (2013 December Anthology), and The Long Story (2014 March Anthology).
Have mercy on the younger generation.
Yes, Mamma. I remember those words you said in a letter. One hot afternoon here in the IV Corps in the Mekong Delta, I stood watching the Viet Cong prisoners sitting in rows under the sun and none in the shade. Sitting on their haunches, blindfolded with a swathe of cloth over their eyes. Their shirts were torn, their black shorts soiled, their legs skinny. Most of them looked no older than seventeen, like those faces in junior high schools back home.
We have boys in our company too. Mamma, have you ever had a good look at the faces in a crowd? These young-old faces that I’m looking at every day, I know them but I don’t. Some like me from the OCS, and those from ROTC, The Citadel. Sons of dirt farmers. Fathers of just born babies. Many of them will be in somebody’s home under a Christmas tree, gift-wrapped in a war photography book.
Today I saw the new boys. They were lining up to get their shots along the corrugated metal sides of the barracks. They stood shirtless, the sun beating down on them, the khaki-yellow dust blowing like a mist when a chopper landed, and enshrouded in the yellow-brown dust the boys looked like a horde of specters.
He was one of them. His name is Coy. A week later I made him our slackman. He was seventeen. How he got here I don’t know. Maybe his Ma and Pa signed the papers so he could come here and die. Today is his third day in country. Now he left the line with two other boys, each pressing down a cotton ball on their upper-arms, walking together like brothers, one much shorter than the other two, past the Bravo Company tents, past the water tower where the local Viet girls every morning would crowd together on the old pallet, washing the troops’ clothes in big round pails, walking past the wooden pallet now dry and empty of buckets, going around the cement trucks, the water-purification trucks, crossing the airstrip and stopping at a row of three connex containers painted in buff color. Dust blew yellow specks on the grass and on a pile of boots that leaned against one another.
“What’s your size?” Coy asked Eddy, the shorter boy, who was already crouched in the grass.
“Mine is twelve,” Marco, the other boy, said.
“I wear your size,” Coy said to Marco.
“Fucked-up size,” Eddy said, hand on a boot with a name tag. “They gave me size twelve. What the hell. What’s this size?” Eddy lined the boot alongside his foot. It was the same length. “Fucked-up size,” he said, spitting in the grass.
“How d’walk in them?” Coy said.
“You got twelve?” Eddy squinted up.
“How d’you walk in them?” Eddy said, snickering. “Hundred-dollar question, man. You stuff rags in the toe vamp. What choice d’you have? If I don’t get me a size-ten boot soon, I’m gonna end up with a fucked-up foot on one side and a crooked foot on the other.”
“These are dead men’s boots,” Marco said, bending to look at the name tags.
“Size ten,” Eddy mumbled, his hand hovering over the ownerless boots. “Give me. Give me.”
“’Cause you’re short, Eddy,” Coy said. “Five five?”
“Exacto,” Eddy said.
“He wears boys size,” Marco said then grinned. “Down to his boxer.”
“Size ten,” Coy said, shaking his head. They don’t make them, Eddy.”
“I don’t ever want to wear a dead man’s boots,” Marco said.
“I do, boy,” Eddy said, “I wear s-i-z-e t-e-n. How can you walk in the jungle in size twelve with your foot slipping and sliding in it? If I don’t get me a size-ten boot soon . . .”
“Dead man’s boots,” Marco said.
“Maybe they have a whole ship load here tomorrow,” Coy said. “You’ll never know.”
“More dead man’s boots,” Marco said.
Eddy was holding up a pair of boots. They looked like boots on display, neatly laced. Eddy weighed them in his hands. “Wonder why they got no tag on them,” he said.
“Maybe they’re still looking for whatever’s left of whoever,” Coy said, looking down at Eddy. Jesus Christ! He heard Marco’s voice, who had gone around the connex containers.
Coy then Eddy went behind the containers. There was a mound of body bags in the grass. The grass had yellowed in the heat and the bags were pale green, their nylon zippers white running straight down the middle. One bag had burst open and the remains, red and pulpy, spilled onto the grass. Bones, mushy flesh stuck with torn, bloodstained green cloths, intestines discolored and twisted of a maimed torso.
Marco turned away, slumping. They could hear him retch. Coy crossed himself quickly.
“It stinks,” Eddy said, swatting at a fly.
Coy held his breath. Marco sniffled, spat, but he wouldn’t turn around as he knelt on the ground.
“They musta dumped them way up from the chopper,” Eddy said.
“Bastards,” Marco said.
* * *
That boy Coy, Mamma, had a full scholarship to Duke University. He had big brown eyes. He still had pimples on his face. The way he smiled and looked at you, you’d never think he had ever left his boyhood behind. I asked him, “Can you navigate in the jungle?” He said, “Yes, Lieutenant.” I said, “What made you say that?” He said, “I’ve never got lost anywhere I go in my life, sir.” I said, “Well, you’ll be our slackman when we go out next time. You’re Ditch’s replacement.” He said, “Where’s he now?” I said, “Gone.” He said nothing, just blinked. Those big brown eyes. I said, “Your other duty is carrying the litter when we’re shorthanded. You think you can handle it?” He said, too eagerly, “Yes, sir, it’s an honor. I will never let anyone down when they count on me. Being a navigator is a heavy responsibility.”
Mamma, on that sultry afternoon he was fifteen feet behind our point man, breaking a trail. I heard a round coming over us. That unmistakably long and thin mosquito-whine sound before it shattered. We all threw ourselves onto the dirt. It went off and I saw Coy’s back red with blood, for he didn’t hit the ground, and then I heard a crack of the rifle. It struck Eddy, who was carrying a machine gun to the left of our point man, and now Coy screamed as he ran to Eddy and I don’t know, Mamma, if he screamed because he was hit or what he saw from Eddy. Then there was a steady sound of machine guns. We were pinned down, flattened to the ground, the dirt in our noses, our mouths, until we could see the muzzle blasts of the guns hidden under nets of leaves, the white flashes in the over-foliaged jungle. We returned fire, machine-gunning them as we crawled for cover in the whopping sound, round after round, of our grenade launchers.
When it was over, the edge of the jungle once heavily bushed now singed and smoking and shorn white by our artillery shells, I went up the trail and heard someone say, “He’s done, go help our wounded.” Then I heard Marco, “He’s not done, damn it.” I saw Eddy lying on his back and crouching over him was Marco and next to him stood Doc Murphy, our medic.
Mamma, you ever seen grown men argue over a wounded man who was hanging on to his life by a mere thread? Eddie was my machine-gun man. Only five feet five but he carried that twenty-five pounder proudly like a six footer. The enemy’s round had torn open his front and he was gurgling like he was choking on his own blood. Doc and me we watched him quake. Doc said, “He’s not gonna make it no sir.” I yelled at him, “You’re not gonna let him die are you,” and Doc said, “I wish there’s an alternative,” and I said, “Give him three cutdowns right now,” and we squeezed three blood bags just squeezing and squeezing them and all the while watching Eddie’s eyes roll and roll into his head until they suddenly froze like marbles. When he no longer shook, Marco was still holding one of his legs, his size-twelve boot pointed away.
“Where’s Coy?” I asked Doc.
“Sedated,” Doc said. “Over there, LT. Chopper’s coming.”
I went to the edge of the trail where the dirt was a darker yellow and dog’s tooth grass was a green-gray thick mat on which he lay sprawled, his head tilted to one side. A machine gun’s bullet had shattered his cheekbone, knocking out both of his eyes. His nose wasn’t there. Just red meat left. Had I never known him, I wouldn’t have known what he looked like before. He still had pulses. Then Marco and Doc came and sat beside him and Marco whispered to him, “Coy, hey buddy,” and Coy’s head moved just a twitch but it moved like he heard us or maybe it was just a reflex, and I said, “We’re gonna bring you through,” and I knew I didn’t mean that at all as I was looking down at his face, half of it gone now, seeing the raw meat where the nose had once been, the pink bubbles rising and breaking from the cavity. I didn’t want to turn him over, didn’t want to ask Doc about Coy’s back, for I knew it too was a sight to see. Now Marco just held the boy’s hand, said, “You’re going to make it, you hear, you’re going back home soon.” And hearing it I thought of his scholarship and his big brown eyes. We gave him more morphine. At first Doc refused to do it, then he gave in. You don’t do it at least in every two hours. Coy just lay there. If he had felt pain he didn’t show it. He was one of the boys I wanted to bring through. Now he just lay there like he wasn’t belonging. Just lying there, Mamma. Marco held his hand. Doc walked away. When I heard the chopper, the sound of its rotor pitch thumping over the horizon, I looked back down at him. He was gone.
I never cried when they sent me here. That time when they took him away on a litter, I cried.
Eric Low works in the audio-visual industry, and lives in Shanghai. He has had his poems read on radio and has previously been published in several print and online journals, like the Asia Literary Review, Shampoo, Santa Clara Review, and others. He was the 2009 winner of the Singaporean Golden Point Award for poetry, and occasionally functions as an editor for Softblow.
Chinese Park Bench
It is rare to see a man smile
in his sleep, on a Chinese park bench,
in the unicorn-blue days after the snows.
He is smugly dressed. His Mao coloured jacket
betrays a North Face label, badly copied.
His pockets are flattened, no wallet bulges.
A tan line marks his hand where he once wore a watch.
Nothing of value protrudes from this being.
Perhaps it is the knowledge of this,
that lifts the curls of his smile,
and grants him the comfort
of sleeping openly, here in this country.
Darling, Lets Call It One Of Those Mornings.
Darling, lets call it one of those mornings,
when we wake before any of our alarms go.
Maybe because we hear birds singing.
Rare, because this early on the 25th floor, only
suicides willingly squat it out on HDB ledges.
Nevertheless, what is there, is there.
Tweeties arriving in pairs to the prospect of construction.
Nary the jackrabbit bores bearing down on our doors,
that shake dust from our roofs, and take
our wooden board floors in waves. Instead coffee
sips through our gaps; the neighbour we all dream of hating,
is imitating my mother’s butter roasted grinds.
Yellow brick roads, ruby slippers. Our pet topic.
Never mind what Rose K. said about not arguing at night.
We’ll remember them for our next big bout.
Right now, it’s all about
how well the sun shines through and yet not shine.
Milk Films Over Soup
On reading Richard Hugo’s Letter to Kathy From Wisdom
All first instincts were the search for compatibilities.
Who was who, the likeness of individual behaviours, as if
choices then, were as limited as they were now.
After that, promises, promises. That I would always keep this poem close
repeating the words as I sipped cold soup at the Yuyao Lu cafe.
I am a liar of course. But only you, would know how to call me out.
Remember this place? Where we walked to for breakfast
after your first night at my house. I had to feel my way here then,
towing you along by your fingers. A blind man
with no cane, leading a girl only pretending to be blind.
Between now and then, one of us got smarter or duller. I forgot which.
These days, I trudge here on base instinct alone and the Frenchman
who served us on his first week in Shanghai, once so eager and kind,
no longer recognises me as the man in the blue long sleeved shirt
with the teenage girl clinging to his arm, asking him about life in general.
Perhaps it is three, and he and his waiters are impatient
to go home for those small hours precious to them.
The milk that formed the base of my soup has turned impatient too.
A layer of film freezes over its surface. I break it up with my spoon,
stirring to emulsify it back into liquid, but we both know,
nobody could drink this anymore. Still,
stirring always helps.
I started laughing; at you, almost the Kathy of my own Hugo poem.
For hoping that one day as you break the road on your yellow bicycle
through those sanely acres of your farm filled world, washing
your feet in the creek behind your house, splashing
your face with their waters, still trying to shun all that is me and mine,
you might come to understand how much you, this deli, that poem,
even the Frenchman, matters.
Ouyang Yu is now based in Shanghai, teaching at SIFT (Shanghai Institute of Foreign Trade) as a professor. In 2012, he has published a couple of books, including The Kingsbury Tales: A Complete Collection and Self Translation.
B-mode Ultrasound Report, Gynecology Department
On it is written:
Anteversion of uterus and abnormal corpus uteri: 9.1 x 5.4 x 4.7cm
A prominent tubercle on the back wall that is 1.9 x 1.8cm
Its inner membrane 0.8cm in thickness
The appendix (on the left) is 2.7 x 1.6cm and (on the right) 2.7 x 1.8cm
With a clear and even echo
I was drinking till my belly was close to bursting, my legs weakening
And my lower abdomen turned thin and transparent, like the crepe georgette I was in
To make it easier for the instrument to explore the complex topography inside
The doctors thought they were looking at a kaleidoscope
A woman’s final file, her history as much as her geography
The descriptive language on the report, in an objective tone
Is an assessment of the most vital part of a woman
Like the remarks on a student’s performance at school in the old days
The figures accurate and submissive
Suggesting that one had to offer a monthly betrothal present
If the report were written in a figurative language
It would have to be something like this: its shape is closer to a torpedo
Than an opening magnolia denudata
With a garment of pure cotton and silk linings
Hiding nothing in her heart except the depths of her body, in a corner or a far suburb
So remote it almost resembles the western regions in the body
Connected to the outside and heights by dark channels and narrow lifts
With a door ajar, a dream of crowded kids and the courage to be ageing all the way
In a lyrical language, it would have to be written thus:
Ah, this cradle of mankind
Grown on the body of a failed woman
Stops short of germinating despite its rich maternal instinct
Ah, this church of love
Ruins of love to the nth degree, like the Imperial Summer Palace
This other heart, an organ the most solitary and empty in the body
Ah, instead of being a house, an old garden, it often feel s homeless
And does not believe in gravitation as it has an intuition, soft and moist
A memory that flies
就要这样写： 它的形状， 与其说跟一朵待放的玉兰相仿
啊， 它本是房屋一幢故园一座， 却时常感到无家可归
Perhaps I am Willing
Perhaps I am willing
To be with you every day
My heart, for the rest of my life
Is a window pane
Cleaned till it shines.
Early in the morning we go somewhere near
To the simple-minded creek
The sun spreading our skins
With a deep glaze
And the healthy grass reaching over our knees.
I am willing
To listen to you every dusk
Gathering the ducks home with a whist le
When the land becomes quiet
And the sun, brilliant, beautiful.
Because of the lush water grass
Our ducks are over-grown, nearly to the size of geese
Without the red crown
The sign of the geese.
We are so poor at managing them
That these ducks have become like us
Believing only in the poetry of life
Not wanting to go home for the night, and stepping onto a great
Happy or unhappy
Until they move back, from artificial propagation
Laying liberalist eggs, one by one
In the boundless grass.
You Have Fallen Ill
Separated from you by hundreds of kilometers of a rainy land
I am so concerned about your condition
I misread weather report as cardiograph, CT, colour ultrasound or blood
I shall fast for you, taking only vegetables with little oil and rice congee
And pray for your recovery
Now that you are ill
Please take a good rest like barn grass after the rain
Flashing your tender bud in the afternoon sun
Ring me about your pain and dizziness smelling of Lysol
For life is a debt that needs to be paid off slowly
Please open the ward window and see the morning glow and the setting sun
over the top of the dawn redwood
And the path drifting with the aroma of dinner
Peace and quiet are the best doctors
I have so many things to warn you about but please do remember these:
You have to add a bit of laziness to your virtue
And let the dust gently settle on your desk
Make friends with tea and enemies with liquor or cigarettes
Have walnuts, peanuts, sesame, seaweeds and fish
Take a regular walk along the river
And take medications on time, not afraid of its bitterness
Now, everything has turned from two into one
One cotton quilt, one pillow
One tooth-brush, one face-towel
One chair, and photographs that contain only one person
And there is only one poplar tree outside the window as well
What’s more, I emit one egg in vain as usual every month
All these things are feminine
Shadows matching their shapes, like a widow
Sticking to her chastity, like a nun
Now, I lock my door alone, I walk downstairs alone
I window-shop alone, I walk alone, I go back to my room alone
I read alone, I have a banquet alone, I sleep alone
I live from morning till night
And have to walk to the end of my life alone
The cloth doll, covered in dust, on the bookshelf
Has no spouse, like myself
I am a divorcee and she, an old maid
We suffer from the same condition but have no pity for one another
My telephone remains silent, like a mute
Who can strike my heart’s cord in the stillness of the night?
Even my heartbeat is solitary
Creating an echo in the empty room
I am a compound vowel that cannot find a matching consonant
I am an oblique tone that cannot find a matching level tone
I am a surface that cannot find a match to strike
I am a parabola that cannot find its coordinate system
And I am a dandelion that can find neither the spring nor the wind
I am one, and I am ‘1’
With solitude as my mission
And loneliness as my career
如今， 一个人锁门， 一个人下楼
一个人看书， 一个人大摆宴席， 一个人睡去
The International Flight
Across the city wall of the Chinese language
Through the broken limbs of the Japanese language and over the hedge of
the Korean language
Until I, with a leap into the round window of the English language
Am translated into a sick sentence
Passion covers more than a thousand kilometers an hour
There are the sun-threshing-ground and cloud-villages outside the window
It is a gale, I believe, of thirty-thousand feet that is blowing me away
Chucking the absurd first part of my life onto the earth
The International Date Line resembles a jumping rope
As I jump back from the 12th to the 11th
From today to yesterday: Can mistakes be corrected? Can love return?
我从4 月12 日跳回11 日
Lu Ye, is a Chinese poet born in December 1969. She has published a number of poetry collections, such as feng shenglai jiu meiyou jia (Wind is Born Homeless), xin shi yijia fengche (Heart is a Windmill) and wode zixu zhi zhen wuyou zhi xiang (My Non-existent Home Town). She has also published 5 novels such as xingfu shi you de (There was Happiness) and xiawu dudianzhong (Five in the Afternoon). She has won a number of poetry awards, including the People’s Literature Award in 2011. She now teaches at Jinan University, China.