Song of the cicadas /
Amherst : University of Massachusetts, 2001.
ix, 82 p. : ill.
1558493077 (pbk. : alk. paper)
More Details
Amherst : University of Massachusetts, 2001.
1558493077 (pbk. : alk. paper)
catalogue key
A Look Inside
First Chapter

Chapter One


Vinh Ha Long (Bay of the Landing Dragon), Tonkin Gulf


                   The rower gaunt as his oar

           lets us out conscious

                           of not getting his 5,000 dông

he stands ankles in cool water

                     holding onto the state-owned boat

             for support his skin the same color

     as the mud my eyes follow

                  the morning tides ebbing

     from the dock

                 (flash of residue

           undulating) turquoise solid

               as the mountains mold has blackened

                     the boat's belly

         lapping at it

                    clear water runs over sky

        grotto of swimming bats I do not swallow

the darkness rocks under my feet

                        are piranhas' mouths if I miss a step

stalagmite meeting stalactites coincidences

           taking forever to form


                      the eclipse's purple cast

            throws everyone

                              off balance

          inside she clutches onto the image

               of her lover in case she falls

                                her body a black and white lily

                                       against the gorge

          of sky this morning she ate nothing

                               but a banana to quell

                          her upset stomach

a well drips its musical water

                                  in the back rock kings play chess

                   a centuries-old tournament

                 neither wins

        dusky unbirth of pre-memory

                 she forgets to bring a flashlight

to disarm the rocks stalagmites

                a line of prayer to hook

                                        her thoughts


bats swallow my shadow

              when the ocean swallows us

    from these pages what will the sky speak

            of the bat grottos?

                 twenty years the ugliness


back to port: bone sky

      mist bleeds over the mountain ridges

                      over water barges snailing

racket of diesel motors

        a huge stone head

                    imagining us

two rocks two cocks fighting

              a vigilant rock dog stares in silence

my hand on the horizon

                of its tail the scaly sieve

The Long Bíên Bridge


              Seeing the Long Biên Bridge

   on a pastel

              map of Hà Nôi its image

      one-dimensional and slumberous an undug


              I would never have guessed

    it for what it really is: a patchwork of engravings

love-entwined names (skin of words

           the unstripping instants of flesh)

  graffiti mostly " Cam Dái! " (No Urinating!)


from bombings shell-shocked doctored countless times

was it the architect Eiffel

                     who drew this bridge into reality?

           its black strokes hanging over the sky

  like a leg of the Eiffel Tower

                   placed across two shores


          the Red River

stripping silt shale

                        over crimson shores fluxes

  urgent snail-patient penitent

                          the rains

bloat it white and phantasmic

                                        at its banks

          she launders the family clothes

     next to where the buffalo shits

                                       where her children

shit rings around her swollen ankles

          children play mindlessly in satellite

shores loaded with strange


                  that body of dazzling light


she's learned how to talk back

                            without talking

she's learned how to defend herself

            in her small way

                        her older sister

          who refuses to marry him

sits near the bridge amassing

                        vegetables for sale

           mounds of mint

                 hills of water spinach

guavas bananas "the poor man's fruit"

        swords of sugarcane

flopping scales like huge tongues

              ready to weigh

       discreet as pickpockets

                            peril waits

between rusty spokes


        spinning bike tires but

motion saves the day


                   not having to think

            of motion

the villagers commuting from the countryside

                 to the city pedal

                                no thought but to force the legs the foot

                          the hands from swerving

                 head straight

not really looking at anything but the whole

in sync

       they know not to hold their breaths

       the wind moves through you in conditional

tense of spokes tattered clothes

                 conical straw hats

     friction of atmospheres

          flapping clothes hinting the body's

                   bony outline

hair that knows itself through wind


acidic arcs

          urine stains tumbling rain

the bridge shudders from the history

it knows

peasant-fighters rumbling feet bodies

       dragged over its steel ribs

                     throaty cries like rusty parts

toe caught tire thong lost

still the urgency the pedaling


        rustic bodies

with the weight of the day's work

               splayed over trailing shadows

       bodies illuminated like insomniac


       pealing from one outline to another

                the endless chase

                 encaged chickens

         whiz by chickenfeathers

strip the sky of wait

                      and water water

                 you know not to hold your breath


waiting for it

         the minute it comes you want

                                    to escape



                     not in cramped houses

                                   with censorious walls

       but in anonymous air

                the lake's mist shields

                                     them from comment

  one gesture kindling

                   another that's how I espy

                them the lovers

hand sparked on the hip

             serpentine hair

                          draped along the body

           no matter that the rats scuttle

                                 like shuttlecocks

    around the lake's lips drinking

                            in the lovers' discourse

their embrace makes sure

        the world doesn't exist

                subject of noise

  the winter day's pantomime


moving in two worlds

                       the tortoises the swallows

                                             their minds

              the elderly practice Tai Chi

                              at 6 in the morning

      around the lake

          one gesture flows into another

                                     arms to wind

                 heel to ground

                   sure the world does exist

                                the matter of their bodies

                                       not their mist

      shrugging sleep off morning's shoulders

                                  the tofu lady sings

the morning is a burning

                      kettle of thuc bac Chinese herbs

            my aunt's roosters croon the battlewire cage

                        their kept secrets

                                wanting death is wanting nothing


raging under pho

            the kerosene fire

        a cigarette fizzing a female hand

the insouciant days quiet burning like writing

             clash of shadows

                                      feet adrift


                               rats leap

                                          for food-scraps around the lake

                     the northeasterly wind casts its spells

         ashes of money burnt at an offering

                                                           purling incense

                               faraway the shade of dried squid

burning children have their butts up in gutters

                                   the fierce motorcycled streets

               at the juncture

                         where matter dreams

              & pantomimes begin to speak

                           you gather from its incandescence

                      your world


as they come

                    through the endless branchings of rooms

       after bronze Chinese coins are cast

               strange heat of silences

                             you stand doused in sleep

    the back of your neck

                  is a bird's shadow ascending

      your spine a line

          a ravine where things are lost:

       marbles the sound of a cello

   faded photos brittle letters

       I lace your body with my hands

                      your legs loaves of bread

               your feet slippery fish

           broken fins

swimming through uncharted waters

                     under your right shoulder blade

I find something shiny black

                          a new revolver

as they come for you

           I wipe sleep off your shoulders

   put the gun in your hands

        tell you to aim

you point

             to your head


Crows land like horses' neighs

        rush of rocks

how many buffalo

    does it take to plow a disaster?

              how many women to clean

         up the mess?

     shoots of incense

                    hotly in her hands

she bows toward the tombstones

          face of her son

   how many revolutions for us to realize?

             her windless gray hair

becomes her she knows this

                          there is no reason

     to dye what she's earned

        rain quiet as wings

on her back

A New Víêt Nam


                   sweat of bolts & nails

muscle like steel & metal

architects work at a ripping pitch

                               pounding out a new capitol

                       around the lakes

          morning to evening the ground explodes

                          liquid concrete

mercury ambling down streets

you think you are the noise

men pick at French-laid concrete like crows

         shovels and picks at shoulders

they stand knees in earth

pain trots down the street

how life would've been more than noise

how events should've happened


Hue -- what do you make of chance

                   life's but a dollar a day

                 what should you say when a person

dies each day in the Demilitarized Zone scrounging for scrap metal

shrapnel unexploded

                        bullets & bombs on trays like shrimp

        before tourists?

the hills now there now disappearing

           white claws stream down from dumped chemicals

                                             a fun house of horror

still after decades the Khe Sanh Combat Base

              is nearly flat; the Ho Chí Minh trail winds

thirty minutes to Laos & National Highway 1 threading

                    the country in one

is it chance that the Hue dialect is a giddy

                                               fish never to be hooked?

the language is imagined by the land's vapors

                 fluctuating hills

                               the mirage of white sand

by dreams of the brood

                 of cows walking through white mountains

a woman fries her smoky meal

                        next to a moon crater


     honey-moon light swoops over the valleys

                                            upon the Dà Lat mountains

                                  like squadrons

a man buys two bunches of bananas in half a second

      I linger & face the remark

                          of the vendor "chúi nào cung nhu vay ht

                    cô hiên quá di vào buôn bán di"

("the bananas are all the same you're too naive go into business")

I pass the Nuclear Research Center

                              prop from an old movie

             on a deserted mountain

  toward the Domaine de Marie Convent a pink

church "once house to 300 nuns" someone waves

then past the cemetery a mountain of crosses

                                           which doesn't stop rising

Copyright © 2001 University of Massachusetts Press. All rights reserved.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2001-04-16:
"Tide pools wait/ for the stone-eating sea," "children play mindlessly in satellite/ shores," a Vietnamese "dialect is a giddy/ fish" and "monkeys howl the illogical twilight" in M“ng-Lan's intriguing sequences about places in Southeast Asia and North America. M“ng-Lan takes her geographic imagination far beyond the space of a single ethnic heritage: scenes and sketches of Southeast Asia complement similarly structured poems about Mexico, whose tropics provide vivid, organic-seeming symbols. The Asian sequences concentrate instead on people "villagers commuting from the countryside," Saigon citizens, kids, a new mother and the whole strange (to American eyes) constellation of "A New Viˆt Nam." M“ng-Lan, whose family came to America from Vietnam in the '70s and who is now a Stegner fellow at Stanford University, explores all the above subjects and, crucially, her speaker's reactions to them in juxtaposed fragments, speculations and phrases arrayed on the field of each page in a manner that suggests the influence of Charles Olson and Adrienne Rich. Though the poems can have the too-even keel of reportage, they also ascend to heights of electric oddity: one poem finds new things to say about "The Golden Gate Bridge," where "the wind's mood and resolutions/ erase tendrils/ that grow/ from the sea (to engrave around it/ have that as a dish/ you could eat)." Readers who seek elaborate structures or an unerring musical ear may be may be disappointed in these impressionistic, accretive works. Those who seek ethnography, good travel writing, vivid phrases or durable images, on the other hand, will find much of this debut a worthwhile trip. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, April 2001
ForeWord Magazine, December 2001
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Unpaid Annotation
In this striking first collection of poems, the grainy strangeness of the modern world is transformed into a place at once knowable and enduring. Mong-Lan conveys the certainty that even when the world stops making sense, decency and beauty somehow survive. From Saigon to San Francisco, she combines the earthly and the ecstatic, the animal and the sublime, to create lyrics that tempt and haunt.
Table of Contents
Grottop. 3
The Long Bien Bridgep. 6
Lakep. 12
Ravinep. 15
Fieldp. 16
A New Viet Namp. 17
Sand, Flies and Fishp. 23
Trajectoryp. 35
The Golden Gate Bridgep. 38
Silence of Formp. 44
the tastep. 52
Song of the Cicadasp. 53
Hungerp. 60
Twilightp. 61
Things Humanp. 63
Sounding Sa Decp. 69
Trainp. 72
Lettersp. 74
Gravityp. 75
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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