By Jenna Le:
Mom grew up beside the Perfume River in Vietnam,
in a brick house overrun by chickens.
Those horny-footed fowl were always
rubbing their feather-padded genitals
against sofa legs and children’s shoes
as if they were fit to burst. Mom laughs
as she tells me how they ground
their pelvises against her leather sandal,
stuporous with misdirected lust—
How strange that she
is talking to me about sex
in this casual way. She’s returning to her roots
as a child who lived among
unmannered beasts. And I, through hearing her words,
am returning there with her: I
am the aggressive rooster; I’m the hens
cowering behind the outhouse; I’m the much-abased,
much-abraded, Size Four shoe.
THREE SHORT POEMS ON A COMMON THEME
Staring at you across the room, my body seemed composed
of nothing but eyes.
Even my mouth
watered, like an eye.
I couldn’t sleep a wink all night: my brain agitated its solitude
like a washing machine
filled with copies
of your immaculate white shirt.
In the morning, I went out and bought a book of your poems.
It’s a poor substitute for a straightedge, it’s true,
but you won’t
sell me your curves for any price.
Today’s poems are from Six Rivers, published by NYQ Books, copyright © 2011 by Jenna Le, and appear here today with permission from the poet.
Jenna Le was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a daughter of two Vietnam War refugees. She received a B.A. in mathematics from Harvard University and an M.D. from Columbia University. She has worked as a physician in Flushing, New York, and the Bronx, New York. Her full-length poetry collection, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011), was a Small Press Distribution Poetry Bestseller. Her poetry, fiction, essays, book criticism, and translations of French poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as AGNI Online, Barrow Street, Bellevue Literary Review, Massachusetts Review, Measure, Pleiades, and 32 Poems.
Editor’s Note: Lyric, narrative, accessible, and unafraid, Jenna Le’s Six Rivers opens along the banks of the Perfume River, in a scene that pairs mother with sex and “horny-footed fowl.” The relationships—between mother and daughter, between ‘here’ and ‘there’—are rich and complex, with the poet embodying her mother’s past, her roots, and the “much-abased, much-abraded, Size Four shoe.” Throughout the book love and sex, personal, familial, and cultural history, healing and death are all explored as we travel with the poet along the six rivers of her life. Le allows herself to be vulnerable and imperfect, and so we relate to her, root for her, are drawn into her vivid world. A keen seer and a captivating reporter, it is no wonder that, at times, the poet feels she is “composed of nothing but eyes.” Hungry for life, hungry for love, it is no wonder that “Even [her] mouth watered, like an eye.”