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Paul Tran

Boy Dreams of the Wolf

We begin
as intention:
a stigma

opening its mouth
to licks pollen
from a bird’s wing.

A field’s unfurled
fist collapsing
into palm trees.

Their leaves


In the world before this one,
I’m not even the idea of me:

a sound passing through space
into the chest of a stranger

that keeps me there until I’m big
enough for him to devour.


galaxy of matter
tiny cells
in a pool
of murk God

of Infinite Faces
& No face
light of stars
into fire

if we find
each other
in the ravine
of this ancient

if we reach
across the abyss
to discover
the meaning
of touch

if we hold
each other
so tight
we become
a single organism

& the name
of the thing
we can’t yet
finds its way

into our throats
like a song
in our mother’s

then tell me
what evidence
do we need
of our own


Then blood. Then limb. Then forests dripping with blood & limbs.
Then river. Then country. Then war & no country. Then the river
disappears & a country resurrects from where fish once swam
upstream to lay their eggs, to sing their families to life. Then song.
Then the song sung in death. Then death masquerading as life.
Then life because it’s the only choice we have. Then yes. Then yes
until we become the only choice we have. Then blood. Then blood
again. Then every tree burning oily black smoke. Then the part
where we give up. Then the part where we put down our sword
or swallow it to survive. Then the part where we rip out our teeth
& take a skull full of our mother’s blood & cast it back into the sea.
Then the part where we sing the song we heard only once in a dream.


What begins
as a thought
becomes a feeling.

The feeling
a word.
I shout

the word
from a cliff.
My body follows it

into the wind
& becomes
a pair of wings.


He was my father.
He was a man whose name I don’t remember.
He was a shadow in my best friend’s basement.
He was grocery bags dropped on the floor.
He was hands & hands & hands.
He was a white towel that smelled like sugar.
He was a garage in Anacostia.
He was my dorm room at Brown.
He was the back seat of a car without condoms.
He was uncut & beautiful.
He was a camera commanding me to be a door.
He was Let me in.
He was What are you running from?
He was bacteria in my bloodstream.
He was & remains inside me.


One day, I will be more
than what happened

to me: a rape victim,
survivor. Tell me

what these terms mean—
One day, I will return

to my life. I will go
back to a time

before time when I am
a blank page, a song

sung from the other
side of hurt.


Paul Tran is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet & historian. His work appears in Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, The Offing, RHINO, which gave him a 2015 Editor’s Prize, & elsewhere. He received fellowships & residencies from Kundiman, VONA, Poets House, Lambda Literary, Napa Valley Writers Conference, Home School Miami, and the Vermont Studio Center. He is the first Asian American to represent the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in almost 20 years at both the National Poetry Slam and Individual World Poetry Slam, where he ranked top 10. Paul lives in NYC, where he works at NYU and coaches the Barnard/Columbia slam team. Visit him at or @speakdeadly.


See full list of 2015 Emerging Poets Fellows