My mother’s last mid-autumn festival in Saigon, 1977

by Natalie Linh Bolderston

A Golden Shovel after ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ by Ocean Vuong

You light candles for every ghost of your blood, bend to say
your prayers, burn joss to mask the smell of surrender.

You pile plastic fruit at the shrine and queue for rations. Remember to say
cm ơn, even in the eye of ruin. This year, the moon is a chunk of alabaster
tomb, blasted high. When you next bleed, it will be switchblade
thin. The school monks said English nouns taste of honeysuckle,
that there is a place where meadows are alight with goldenrod
instead of grenades. You plan to leave. Your father teaches you to say
sorry in five languages, so you might survive into next autumn.
Always apologise when you don’t know what else to say.

You prepare to cross the sea, to a place where autumn
means something different. Where no one pays homage to the moon, despite
its bloodless light, unfiltered by gunsmoke. Where the
crops are still safe to eat and the world will always return to green. 
To see it, you are ready to lose everything but the language you pray in.

You send a lantern into the night. Your mother says, I hid all your
names inside as a hundred flames fill your eyes.