Taking Root

By Sandra Ngo

man farming during daytime

I realized that war was monstrous. If it didn’t kill those it touched, it took away a piece of their souls, so they could never be whole again.
― Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, The Mountains Sing


Our mothers were birthed
in emerald green and clay dust,
the land of ruby dragonfruit.
The first sister arrived on the Northeast wind
and the younger on the summer monsoon—
Bodhi and hibiscus trees planted
in the middle of the busy road that framed their home.

We were their tiny seeds, a promise –
ready to be flung
onto the earthly tracks below.
And then—
And then—
A cataclysm that cast out
half a family in a fisherman’s skid.
A tide of war that parted us with the Pacific.

Forty years has since passed, but
I remain your sonic echo:
a mirrored gesture of a boat unboarded.
I picture you working in your clothing stall,
and wish to ask in a language you do not know
“How are the kids?”
Do you wonder if I remain untethered?
I still have no answer.

But cousin,
how is it possible to sprout?
Our grandparents swam in bays with limestone isles
while my tendrils snake into clear lakes,
with snails and clams just the same (but smaller).

Have I put down roots?
I drink the summer air
sweet as lychee berries,
and wish for monsoons all the same.
I am having a baby soon.


Sandra Ngo is a Canadian-born member of the Vietnamese diaspora. Her poetry focuses on the complexity of identity, and how the minute details are crafted by the larger systems and ecologies in which we live.

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