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As part of the lead up to this much-anticipated reading, I am posting a poem by one of the eight poets who is reading: by Paul Tran, a Vietnamese-American poet who is working on their first book. As per their website, "The manuscript examines intergenerational trauma, sexual violence, and U.S. empire after the Fall of Saigon in 1975." Here, I am reposting "Testimony", a horrific/beautiful poem that breaks the cultural silence that surrounds rape and sexual abuse, and makes space for others to speak. Here, you will notice the line "Only him. / Again // and again". In this kind of extreme experience, the perpetrator attempts to fill the lense of being, trying to blot out the self of the victim. But poetry pushes back, and speaks. Although the poem describes that moment of victimhood, the poet moves past it, holding that kernel so as to better witness it for the liberation of others.
Testimony, by Paul Tran
I didn’t ask for it. Something moved in the tall grass.
Neither my imagination nor the wind, light rippling in the heat.
He had a human face. But he wasn’t human. He was
a hunger. Not for me — for what he could do to me: shepherd boy
alone in a field of thorns, flock grazing tufts of rhododendrons,
the world with its back turned. He kissed me, moved his wolf tongue
in and out of my mouth, a hole he filled with himself.
Disrobed, he tied my underwear around my knees, licked the bottom of my feet.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand what was happening.
When I said his name, when I shouted what he was at the top of my lungs —
a desire for something he couldn’t keep —
he dragged me by my hair across the devil’s wilderness. My back whittled
and threadbare. I wished my scalp and skull had split, spilled the contents
of my brain like rind in a garden of unearthly delights so I could be dead —
stay dead — and not chase the impulse to testify pulsing in my blood.
Cause and effect. He planted me on a grove overlooking my village.
He pushed his sex inside me. The sky hid behind gathering clouds,
too disgusted to look. Perhaps it’s a gift only to feel my body
taken from me. Perhaps observation’s a lie. No one believed me
anyway. No one came. Only him. Again
and again, until there was nothing left.
(Originally published in The Offing, Trans Issue, 26th November, 2015.)
We’re proud to have Paul as part of the line up next Saturday (29th April at 7 p.m.) at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop. If you missed my previous post about my motivations for organising the reading, you can read it here. The post has all the information you will need to donate to RAINN (or go to the top of this post and click the link), and directions if you would like to come to the reading, which is at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on Saturday, 29th April at 7 p.m. We hope to see you there.