Back to Issue Sixteen.

Apology, Sort Of



since the older boys agreed
to watch over me for the night
my mother, who says, girls no girls
will allow me to sleep over
at my cousin’s house, where the boys
in their loose shorts, will take turns
standing above the air vent. The fabric
billowing & rising above their thighs
leg hairs thickening in summer.
I was an ordinary magician: pulling
something red-eyed & shaking
from ordinary cloth, while the boys
whose bodies were buoyant in darkness
peeled back their skin & showed me
how to drain the blood from a limb
how to borrow a palm from the air
to drag a hand, thick with static
under a waistband. They taught me
how to haunt my own body—turns out
boys scare easily when softened.
Okay. I get it. There are rules
you have to follow if you want to survive.
So maybe I believed the briefs decorating
the floor were white flags I could tuck
into my pocket. Okay. So my eyes lingered
a little too long on the oldest boy
whose body became a knot in my throat
who smiled in my direction
when he emptied himself—I know.
I know you’re not supposed to smile back.






Would I be
a decent exorcist
running a braid
of copper wires
along my mother’s
teeth, to see
the flames
change colors?
Her hands
sometimes small
as coins, reach
for me, even
when the moths
make up most
of my body.
I know she’s sorry
for the bad years:
I packed my bags
once. I slept in
a neighbor’s car once.
I know it’s cruel
to make her
wear the same dress
in every memory
to say forgive
yet stitch a mask
on her while she sleeps.
I always knew
guilt would keep her
from noticing
the money missing
from under her
I could get away
being clumsy
with knives.
Every surface
Every curtain
drawn. The house
still sinking
when no one is
on board.
It beckons me
from the highway
to watch
the one lit room
slowly go dark.
I want to break
its windows
with my face.

Hieu Minh Nguyen is the author of This Way to the Sugar (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014). Hieu is a Kundiman fellow and a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine. His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Indiana Review, Guernica, Ninth Letter, Devil’s Lake, Bat City Review, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. His second collection of poetry is forthcoming on Coffee House Press in 2018. He lives in Minneapolis.

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