Middle Name with Diacritics

by Natalie Linh Bolderston


Linh hồn [soul]

1. A voice / tapping / from inside the skin
2. Quan Âm / the goddess of compassion / at the end of her ninth life /
     having shed the last stinging layer / of flesh
3. A temple full / of starving yellow birds
4. Ancestors / who stitch your prayers into houses / with the floors missing
5. The name of four teenage girls / in my mother’s refugee camp
6. The part of me / often left out or misspelled / that moves quietly
     through the world

Lính [soldier]

1. Two sisters / who delivered a village from the throat / of a tiger / the
    Red River’s champions / anointed as queens
2. A woman / their descendant / two hundred years later / who carried
    girls from the betrayal of moonlight / searched a field / for the skinless face / of someone she loved
3. Frenchmen / who guarded Bà Ngoại’s school gates / when she was a
    girl / she cycled right up / in white áo dài / offered paper flowers / she had never heard / a foreign accent before
4. The ringing / in the ears / after a grenade / shreds open the morning
5. The rising tone of flesh / heavy with napalm
6. A man / who searches a crater / he made earlier / who returns to Huế
    many years later / touches reconstructions / of all he destroyed

Bản lĩnh [bravery]

1. A monk / whose heart will not burn / no matter the heat / whose
    words / tugged his spirit from his body / to watch over / the spectacle
    of suffering / the way a flower / opens to drought
2. A woman / hiding bribes in the walls / stops the shake of her hands /
     when she lies
3. A girl / in her parents’ deserted house in Bạc Liêu / selling hats /
    waiting for word from her mother / hiding / from an older man /
    who has been watching her grow
4. A mother / bargaining / for broken rice / cubes of pork / cigarettes /
    ginger to help stomach her twelfth child / still inside her
5. A man / who lies on a table / on a boat / no anaesthetic / black
    powder medicine / the smell of burning
6. A girl again / in a camp / her fingers / on her sister’s wrist through
    the night

Ra lịnh [to command]

1. A girl / who stops eating / asks her body to follow her / into silence
2. Bullets / at a teenage boy’s heels / as he runs / from his uncle’s
    seized field
3. Scripture / by unholy men / ordering Ông Ngoại to tame a jungle / into a home
4. Heirlooms surrendered / for silence / birthdates / sea / exile
5. Names given up / because home did not rest easily / on unyielding
    tongues
6. My mother’s medicated bloodstream / that tells her / her pain does
    not exist / that her bones / have not yet lived through / all they can
    endure