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My Mother Still Dreams of the War
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My Mother Still Dreams of the War

Her great unclewas kidnappedwhen she was five

and the rumorsof the Viet Congprevent her

from ever returningto that place, wherethe wraiths rose

from the paddiesas she walkedalone to school.

In sleep, she can’t eraseher great-uncle’sface—his kind eyes

and hair cropped close.In the summer,soldiers hid in the ditch

just outside her home.She knew themfrom their distinct smell

mùi Mỹshe called it, laughing—that American scent

of mosquito repellantand unbathed skinthat she described as

the smell of something burning. [End Page 26]

She was thirteenwhen the soldierstouched her hair,

clipped the strandsbetween their fingersas if to cut them,

and perhapssome pieceof her too.

Soon after, a village girlwas raped by a soldierin a dried out gully.

She was airliftedto the fieldhospital.

My mother doesn’t say,It could have been me.but instead:

the girl livedand could nevermarry. [End Page 27]

Cathy Linh Che

Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James, 2014), the winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize. She received her MFA from New York University and is the recipient of fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, Hedgebrook, and Poets House.

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