Vanni Taing


I was glad to see you die. But before that, before you turned yellow and your arms were crossed in a coffin, while you were still among the living, all you did was yell. All that I remember is the yelling. You were thin as me, Uncle, a seven-year-old girl. You were so happy when brother was born. Finally, after mother's misfortune of bearing two girls, here was a boy. First time I ever saw you laugh. And then I saw you in the hospital. Three packs a day at thirty-two and now you can't even taste the salt and grease on your KFC.

Santa Clara St., downtown San Jose. It was an ugly Santa Fe-style building, a rectangular adobe with white paint chipping off its bones. The monks inside chanted Nam Mô A Di Ðà Phật for you, I could only take five minutes of it at a time. Then I'd go to the drug store next door; other times, I was at the movie theatre down the street. Once the monks stopped chanting, people came to take your coffin, took it and shoved it through an oven door in the wall. The doors closed and then flames started shooting.

Mother made me burn incense and pray for her whenever we visited your picture at Chùa Ðức Viên. She told me to ask for her prosperity and for me to do well in school. We'd visit on your anniversary, New Year's, and during the Moon Festival. She'd shake a canister until one of the bamboo reeds fell out, counted how many lines there were, and then she'd run to the shelves to find the corresponding fortune. If she didn't like what the scroll said, she would pass the can to me. No! Both hands! Shake strong. Speak clear. Maybe they not hear me. They don't hear me, either.

Lantern Review: A Journal of Asian American Poetry
Issue 1 | June 2010 | pp 45-46