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Cathy Linh Che

Doc, there was a hand, my bed
was pushed across the room.
I drew faces on the flowers, this one
with shut eyes—and when I woke,
they opened. I watched my father
wash his hands with gasoline.
He always smelled of something
burning. He held out his hands,
twin flames, volcanic rock.
In the room, I mapped out
an archipelago of needs—
mine, then his, then my father’s.
Stray rocks, a map. Doc, you call it
schema, me shut-eyed, my cousin’s
hostile need. I dreamt my arms
were raised, I think in surrender.
I am reading Freud’s On Dreams.
He returns like a wild obsession.
(There, like a skein in my dreams.)
Archipelago of desire. I skip stones,
one to another. Mother’s shame,
father’s cold and brutal shielding.
There was more tenderness in the rain.
I woke with an archipelago of bruises.
It wasn’t my father. It was the rolodex
spinning pages. It was a child’s hips
and fingers, long and thick.


Cathy Linh Che won the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize and her first book is forthcoming from Alice James in 2014. She has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, Hedgebook, and the Center for Book Arts and is the Program Assistant for the Readings/Workshops Program at Poets & Writers. She also co-edits the online journal Paperbag and is working on an anthology of writing by the children of Vietnam War veterans.


See the full list of 2012 Emerging Poets Fellows