NOT HERE, BY HIEU MINH NGUYEN
Hieu Minh Nguyen’s second book of poetry, Not Here, is a stunning release from Coffee House Press that realizes the intersections of trauma and identity. Its poems braid together the many threads of survival, sexual abuse, erasure, and the ongoing systemic and material manifestation of threats toward queerness and POC. He makes vivid and brutal the self-imposed guilt of the survivor: “Somewhere in my dreaming I allowed this / to happen” and he weaves his many subjects throughout each poem. From the culturally negated trauma of a boy sexually abused by a woman, interpreted as a masculine accomplishment: “—attaboy—ay!boy goodjob-buddy,” to his seamless shift to racial violence, seen as a cultural accomplishment of whiteness: “show me what the Midwest did to that rice-blood//waytogoCharlie! That’s how you do it,” Not Here is carefully invested in the stakes of its subjects, in unsettling and uneasy moments of truth.
And the book opens with and frequently returns to one of seven “White Boy Time Machine . . .” poems, which act as the fraught touchstones of the collection—again replaying the attempts on the speaker, his erasure manifest. Not Here is a collection of survival, surviving all the weight that gathers and bears down and Nguyen never gives or settles for easy answers. Instead, he acknowledges that life, that being here, is not an uncomplicated thing but a worthy thing, and one that his collection continuously points toward.