National Poetry Month 5
sunlight peeking through a small opening
in the window
I sit adjacent to this fragile Hmong woman,
eyebrows filled in with brown,
the rest of her face bare.
“How have you been?” I ask.
It is wonderful what a simple question can do.
She brushes the hair behind her ear,
and she says,
“Bad. It’s the same as it was in 2004
when I tried to take my own life:
drank a big cup
of strong white Hmong liquor
Couldn’t function for days
but I lived”
They call her stupid
for having ears that protect her from the world
for lips that slur art, beauty, life
They call her slut
for wanting to love men who refuse to stay
for their families who choose to deny her
They call her AIDS-infected
for no longer believing in men enough to want to ever marry
for running for herself.
They call her children unlovable
For life choices they had no hand in
for loving their mother despite what others said.
is a three syllable word.
Re for Reliving the hatred.
Jec for ntsev, xiam ntsev…
translating to losing salt,
loss of dignity.
Tion for being shunned from society
from our own families.
emit a hurt that Hmong men don’t seem to have to face
Only we, the ones with breasts
and the havens that hold life
Only we, the babies who did not choose
to be born to mothers covering up victim on their chests
Only we, the life that flows outwardly in lovely rhythmic difference
to see if I am still listening,
and the pain continues to overflow
from her mouth that has been sewn shut for too long
but now rips apart with things that were too big to hold in:
“In 2005 I took 24 pills
and stumbled up the stairs, dying
At the ER, they pumped the salvation from my stomach
and asked ignorantly,
why do you want to die?”
She adjusts stiffly in her seat,
bare feet planted on the unravelling carpet
Boy and girl sit cross-legged on the floor
fighting over remote control
“It is these two who make me stay,”
“Nothing else. Not even me.”
When the blinds have been shut for so long,
it becomes a battle to rip them open
to let in the sunshine
so that we can finally see
We are not their words.
Neither slut nor stupid.
Not disabled or unlovable.
Not weak, useless, mistake, faulty,
that they want to call us.
We are not their failures.
Not the mistakes they want to bury with blame
We are our own successes
Rejection is a three syllable word.
Re for Revival.
Jec for Ntse, intelligence.
Tion for xyoo, the years, the age, the wisdom.
Rejection is an opportunity to start new
Because once you’ve hit the bottom,
The only place you have to go now
To the amazing woman who shared her story with me and all other Hmong women and individuals with disabilities who power through others’ hatred every single day.