Peace, Pieces

By Cindy Phan
11th grade, Skyline High School, UT

With lines from "Vietnam's Sad Hunt: 300,000 Missing Souls" by Joseph Babcock, a Pulitzer Center Reporting Project

(I ask Vietnam, What do you want?)

First, the land.
The swamp smile
and soft bite of it, the wet
kiss of its mouth closed around
my ankle. When I gave my life to
the war, Vietnam laughed,
took my name and my
body, too. Tasted
once and did
not forget.

(Vietnam answers, For them to find peace.)

The war left echoes, still reverberates across thousands
of Vietnamese families. Deafening. Like the roar of XM177
carbines or that empty spot at the table. Stories go like
this: Did you hear about Ms Sinh's boy? Died near the
mountains/near the swamp/near the river. Hearing the
news just about broke her heart, bent her double like a
tree before a monsoon. Goddamn, the way she cried,
like she lost a limb or maybe a son.

Stories go like this: Ms Sinh, voice trembling. A wobble
in her mouth like the curl of water after someone pushed
a body in because there was no time for burials, because
I would know, because no one wanted the Americans to
come and kick their friends after they had died, gone all
bloated and still, so they pushed those horrible bloated
bodies into the river and begged them to rest. Ms Sinh
saying, "It would be great if my son could come home."

Stories go like this: Did you hear about Ms Sinh's boy?
He died, and they're still looking for him. For a corpse,
or a set of bones.

Stories go like this: Did you hear about Ms. Sinh's boy?
I died, and they'e still looking for me, fifty years later.

(Vietnam asks me, What do you want?)

The missing are
hardly forgotten, but
if the dead are not found
they stay lost. Wander homeless
and hungry, their mouths aching for the
taste of home. I want to rest, to sleep.
I want to be able to forget how I
died, the flash of artillery
weighted heavy in
my bones.

(I reply, For them to find my pieces.)

Cindy Phan
Cindy Phan

The eldest daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, Cindy Phan is a member of the graduating class of 2020 at Skyline High School; she lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with her two parents and her younger sister. Although many of her interests are scientifically inclined, she has always felt passionately about hearing and telling the stories of marginalized groups, especially when it comes to how the historically significant events of people of color are whitewashed and/or Americanized. Much of her writing is dedicated to telling stories that go unheard. She is humbled to be named a finalist.

Read more winning entries from the 2019 Fighting Words Poetry Contest