Fall 2008, Volume 5

Poetry by Phuong Thao Le

What Kind of Fear is the Worst?

Dogs barked from distant
Woke me up from a doze around midnight.
The dog in front of my house responded
I was now wide awake and listened.
My heart again accelerated its speed.
I was waiting for something really bad.

My husband was still in re-education camp, they said.
He didn't have chance to know
His fifth child was boy or girl?
I, myself, had to work alone to feed
five children used to a good life.
How could I continue to sleep?

Voices from my neighborhood
Woke me up from a doze again.
Was someone caught like the innocent man
At the street corner previous night
By a secret organization of communist?
When would it be my turn?

Somebody shook my iron front door?
I was wide awake and listened
Was the district police visiting?
My eldest son intended to be "boat people"
He was only fourteen year old, but he must.
Was he safe or got seized?

I tried to keep my baby girl
From crying at night; my husband brought
my son along to escape second time.
Did they succeed, or come back, or what?
Those things happened every single night.
for sixteen years, not less.

Freedom of Speech

A huge piece of cotton immediately put
Straight in the patient's opened mouth—tightly.
He hasn't had enough time to speak that
The warm bloody tooth lying on the plate
Is exactly the neighbor of his aching tooth.

Autumn in the Forest

Dried brown leaves rattle under the steps
Of the leisured elk's hooves
Falling leaves—yellow and red—
Continue waltzing upon the air.

BIO:  "I was born and grew up in the center of Viet Nam. I was fond of poetry in my early days. In my high-school time, I read and memorized several Chinese, French, and almost all Vietnamese famous poems of the 19th and 20th centuries. I might be influenced by the romantic trend of French poetry as many of my classmates at that time. After high school, I moved to Saigon and graduated from the School of Pharmacy in Saigon in 1965. I immigrated to the USA with my husband and four children in 1992 and have been living in California since then. After passing the equivalency of Pharmacy degree, I realized that at my age I couldn't get any good job in this challenging country. I didn't take the license to practice my former career. I decided to stay home to help my children to catch up their goals instead of mine. I also knew that I could study English to adapt easily the new life and teach my grandchildren about their roots in the future. At LBCC, I took classes from the beginning to higher level (from ESL classes to English 1, 3 and so on to go to English 27.) When I learned from Professor Gaspar, I know I found my right choice. I've attended his class semester after semester. I like to participate in any poetry or novel activity so that I can learn more to shorten the gap between my American friends and me."