[Invocative / Apostrophic]: A Poem by Nam Le

From His New Collection, “36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem”

March 5, 2024  By Nam Le

[Invocative / Apostrophic]

To you, mind you. Always,
Even if not
Or not facially.
Your language your leash,

My face my pedigree
And you know I know
My face. To a fault.
To the ninth degree.

Whatever I write is
Vietnamese. I can never not —
You won’t let me not —
Lick the leash or bite it.

Even at the end
Of my brain and yours . . .
(Said transplanted lawns,
Outwash plains sans life)

I am this face.
No more. Whereas
You are the living palm,
The wind, the phoenix song,

The house in my head
I name home.
Though where I’m really from
The dead bird stays dead.


This poem forms part of a longer sequence called 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem. It first appeared in American Poetry Review in March/April 2023.

Nam Le
Nam Le
Nam Le’s poetry has been published in Poetry, The American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, Bomb, Conjunctions, Boston Review, Lana Turner, and The Monthly. He has received major awards in America, Europe, and Australia, including the PEN/Malamud Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award, and the Melbourne Prize for Literature. His short story collection The Boat has been republished as a modern classic and is widely translated, anthologized, and taught. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.

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