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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, September 10, 2018.
About this Poem 

“Immediately after the end of the Vietnam War, my parents escaped on a boat and lived in a refugee camp in the Philippines for eleven months. During that time, my parents were hired as extras in Francis Ford Coppola's Vietnam War film, Apocalypse Now. I had been interviewing my parents about that experience, visiting the site of their refugee camp, as well as the places where the movie was filmed, when my father and I had a falling out and stopped speaking for a number of years. During that time, I was wondering who we were to one another and what lives we imagined the other person living.”
—Cathy Linh Che

Becoming Ghost

I stand behind a one-way mirror.
My father sits in a room
interrogating himself. Bright bulb
shining like the idea
of a daughter.
 
—
 
It looked just like the real
thing. The helicopters, the fields,
the smoke which rose in colors,
the bullets blank, but too real.
Coppola yells Action and we
drag slowly across the back
of the screen, miniature
prisoners of war to Robert Duvall’s
broad, naked chest.
What you’ll never see
written into the credits
are our names.
 
—
 
Ghost of a daughter:
specter, spectator, from a future
we can only dream of. We never
dreamt that one day, you’d be
my age and too bitter
to talk to me. I who gave
every peso to your mother,
who sewed coins into the linings
of my pockets, so that you could eat
enough food and grow taller than
either one of us. I am asking you
to look me in the face and say Father.
I am asking you to see me.
 
—
 
Morning yawns and today,
my father has deleted a daughter, today,
he’s blessed with two sons
who take after his fire and quicksilver.
Today he may be haunted by the grip
of a friend who died in his arms,
but not the scent of a baby girl
he held 37 years ago. Women,
he says, and spits out a phlegm-
colored ghost. There is plasm,
he says, and shrugs–– and then,
there is ectoplasm. What is a father
who has two sons? Happy,
he replies with a toothpick pressed
between his thumb and forefinger. Happy,
he says, looking into the mirror
and seeing no reflection.

Copyright © 2018 by Cathy Linh Che. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2018 by Cathy Linh Che. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 10, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.

Cathy Linh Che

Cathy Linh Che

Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James, 2014), which won the Kundiman Poetry Prize and the Norma Farber First Book Award, among other honors.

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California drought withering the basins,
the hills ready to ignite. Oh, stupid ways

I’ve loved and unraveled myself.
I, a parched field, and not a spit of rain.

I announced to a room of strangers,
I’ve never loved anyone more.

Now he and I no longer speak.

Outside: Manila, 40

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