Selected by Bunkong Tuon, Poetry Editor

Alixen Pham: Three Poems

Exodus of the Boat People



Haunted House

— inspired by Victoria Chang’s poem on Agnes Martin’s painting, On a Clear Day (1973)



I can count your ribs, Jesus said,

leering down. If he was a woman,
would she be where I am right now?

Do you take the body of Christ?

Frankincense dripped from the priest’s
mouth, anointing my head. On collapsed knees,
my mother pokes my remaining ribs.

Open, she hissed.

I opened my mouth. The priest’s phallus fingers
menaced the sky. The pale wafer
caressed my tongue, dissolving tastelessly.

There was a red mess staining my white communion
gown. I couldn’t bondage it with a gold ring or
a fertile bed of obligations. So I learned to play

Life with Mother clinging to my back. Her long
fingernails pinned my fingers to the steering wheel,
collecting money and bruises along the ride.

Each time she bent my knees onto a kneeler, forced
my head into defiant submission, the priest made
the sign of the cross, echoing Jesus’ promise:

Drink of me and you shall live forever.

I drank His blood and ate His flesh. I kept on eating
and drinking from the sons of Adam, kneeling on
two and sometimes four limbs. Open. I opened.

Bend. I bowed. Kneel. They broke my knees.
How many times did I kiss their heads, endure
their entries, begging:

I wish you would love me.

O God of my mother. I swallowed the wrong men.
In my dreams I lost a rib each time I rose from
my knees. Jesus roasted and ate it, exclaiming:

It tastes like lamb.

Waking up from the nightmare, I found my pillbox
emptied of blue ellipses. Only a wafer on a pink satin.
I cauterized my stigmata burning my faith, wondering

if Mary dreamt of being childless. I only know after
years of kneeling, offering my mouth, sucking on men’s
egos, swallowing my anguish and spoons of their semen,

the wafer cannibalized me.

What are you looking for?