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Recorded for Poem-a-Day, March 21, 2017.
About this Poem 

“My parents came to this country as Hmong refugees from Laos after the country collapsed and the Vietnam War ended. I wrote this poem for them, who were so viciously uprooted and ripped away from their landscape of belonging, all of which had been prompted by a government’s political agenda. I grieve for a country that I know they can never truly return to.”
—Mai Der Vang

Dear Exile,

Never step back    Never a last
Scent of plumeria

When my parents left
You knew it was for good 

     It’s a herd of horses never
           To reclaim their    steppes

You became a moth hanging
Down from the sun

Old river    Calling to my mother
Kept spilling out of her lungs

Ridgeline vista closed
Into the locket of their gaze

                     It’s the Siberian crane
           Forbidden    to fly back after winter

You marbled my father’s face
Floated him as stone over the sea

Further    Every minute
Emptying his child years to the land

You crawled back in your bomb

           It’s when the banyan must leave
     Relearn to cathedral its roots

From Afterland, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2017 Mai Der Vang. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

From Afterland, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2017 Mai Der Vang. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

Mai Der Vang

Mai Der Vang

Mai Der Vang's debut poetry collection, Afterland, was selected by Carolyn Forché as the winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award, given by the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem

We cross under
the midnight shield
and learn that bullets

can curse the air.
A symposium
of endangered stars

evicts itself to
the water. Another
convoy leaves the kiln.

The crowded dead
turn into the earth’s
unfolded bed sheet.

We drift near banks,

poem

First, the sting
in your nose.

Then in your eyes,
a furnace flared

To hollow
your face.

Flies above
your empty sockets.

Maggots made
your split skin.

Another cow dies
from breathing

as you swallowed
from the same air.

How many days before

poem

Mid-1700s, Southwestern China

Lightning is the creature who carries a knife.

Two months now,
The rains hold watch.

Statues bury in teak
Smeared with old egret’s blood.

I feel the pulse of this inferno,
Tested by the hour to know

That even torches must not waver

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