Diana Khoi Nguyen
across my field of vision the theater of the field
its dew point halo, ghost-
film; what fed from and into fog,
fractured lamps amplified. Far off, I thought I saw your body
cut through this veil, long
limbs at rest, shoulders raised as if wings, the slow calligraphy
of the night wending its way as though a garden snake across rivers.
the ambulance light up, headlights off, in the distance.
A lantern: someone’s last breath still inside
Lantern: I spied a flash of cottontail blurring back into night
Light: Am I curing myself for the afterlife.
Saw a truck pull off to the edge, watching me watch the tension of—
—line of sight as though pulled by string—
Often some car will park along the perimeter but only sometimes do I feel in danger.
Summer: and the pale moth on the wall
like a chip in the paint.
Black crickets jump from dandelion to dandelion
a pistol cold in the hand of one who holds it
berries stain these country roads with their black blood.
a car slows then pulls over beside me, two young men inside
their faces softening like a green butterfly
mistaken for a leaf.
“We didn’t mean to startle you.” I was ready—
“We wanted to ask if you’d like to join
our Bible study. Not right now, of course, but tomorrow
morning.” My teeth, like mica, glinting
in the moonlight.
I feel my own body
sweeten, like a bear, down to each bone.
He leans outside the open window. I think
how thin is this paper between me and him
how easily it catches fire.
In the sliced hock of night, arches of piss, sprinklers.
I walk my long-suffering dog, suffering no one, through the aisle
of bungalows, Victorians, Tudor fairy tales all seated beside
each other, rabbits darting between them through tall lawns.
Suddenly a clearing: gentle expanse of green like a window
to the earth, pelt rubbed raw in the vast swaths of town. There
is a sundial, its amphitheater, summer children running in the night.
from northern states greases the air like a flightless bird
who cannot lift. A dense row of ash trees line one side
offering shade to kids lighting up past curfew.
When the wind blows
across the field, the chorus of grass ripples in waves of black. I stand
in the thick of it, empty leash in hand, my dog tracing the path of his
ball, like how a small bird traces the sea beneath a larger bird
no, not a larger one, no: a leader with no care for what follows.
The dog rests, his ball safe in his jaw.
What do I see in the night? A nameless face
approaching from behind, my running body slipping
into mist, illuminated by all the water: there is no light. A mirror
reveals what’s behind, what’s in the background—a box
with four walls, me in the world, me and
this world, a diorama. I know what to do with you, I know this:
Do you know that memory is all arrangement, representation
of the world we already occupy?
At the end of my swim, out of breath, I rip off my cap. A man,
teeth-gleaming, trim, smooth-edged, two moles at the base
of his neck, water slipping off of him as it slips off
of me, speaks.
“How do you like it?”
He is tall, taller than me.
Against the pool’s bezel, my hands lift.
She is small, smaller than him.
Out the water, her body lifts.
Behind the lifeguard stand, a boy is brushing a girl’s hair in the shadows.
rain brings all the rabbits into the open, ears stacked
above their shoulders. From one eye
to the other, they see what I see: the line shortening
going slack again, going.
Up ahead, a leaf, no, what was once flesh
or wing. Through dense trees lamplight does not
go far. Bunny silhouette at the crest in the road,
footlights against house walls.
My dog and I:
passing shadows, one inside the other. Red garage
red car. My bare legs before the low light:
lantern, my body wound about a wick. Through slit lids
no one watches, so far as I can tell.
* * *
You can’t throw dirt on someone if they’re underwater.
You can’t throw ash, either, even if the ash is someone after fire.
Continue to swim, throw your arms right through the water. See how it cools.
I continue to throw my body into bodies of water.
Who swims beside me, inside me?
To swim is to be alone, displaced
manifesting and hiding water, like fog
trailing into woods, strands of hair spilling
before my face. I am bleeding again but it has been long
since I last cried.
As the pool pulls itself beneath me
I think: I’m taking up more space but wish
it were with a smaller body. I wish that wish weren’t so.
A beetle in the middle
of the pool straddled atop a lane buoy, standing for a time
amid splash and stroke, in rapt attention
When I turn left to breathe, I see the window framed light.
Right, and I am flying blindly in this light, the lake framed
by an open door.
Afterwards, I spy a beetle on the path and cannot know it
except in likelihood. Who continues to walk in the world.
When by chance my double walks past me, I pretend I don’t recognize her.
And so I become aware of my arousal when I see the naked body
of someone who looks like me. Unless it is my present body, someone
with whom I share custody.
How to end this predicament.
All night I hear a woman’s labored breathing.
Read Diana Khoi Nguyen’s “Look” in the print edition of The Arkansas International 7.
A poet and multimedia artist, Diana Khoi Nguyen’s debut collection, Ghost Of (Omnidawn, 2018), was selected by Terrance Hayes for the Omnidawn Open Contest. In addition to winning the 92Y Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest and 2019 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, she was also a finalist for the National Book Award, L.A. Times Book Prize, and Colorado Book Award. A Kundiman Fellow, she currently teaches in the Randolph College MFA and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop.