Poor Claudia published poetry, prose and conversations online and in print from 2009 to 2018.

Paul Tran

Refugee Abecedarian

    Refugee Abecedarian

           Crows over
              a blazing basilica.

    Companario exploding
              with smoke. Bells swinging
       like sapphire wings
                   at daybreak
           or dusk.

    Nobody can tell the beginning from the end.

              Only a sunbaked river
                     stacked heaven-
                   high with ash.

    Only Cuyamacas wearing Reclining Buddha's gold robe.

           Golden Hills that called conquistadors
    across Death Valley,
              across blood-
                   soaked centuries.
       men thinking they own everything
    they see, everything
              their sex invades.

       My father blasting through the doorway.

    My mother's velvet dress
              a blue flame running
           away from him.

       She pulls me into the closet.
    Her packed suitcase.

              Stay, she says.
                     I stay.

    I recite my English
           for Today. My reflex alphabet.

       ABCD—as in don't.
                     Don't leave. Me
    darting down the hall.

           My mother face down
       on the ground.
                   E—like an emptied river
    clutching a stack of letters.
           F—as in from my father's fiancé.

                   My father ripping them
    from her.
           G—as in grip,
                   as in gas stove and
              H—him, a magician
    turning each missive into a murder
       of crows. Feathery fumes
              like church bells
                   summoning the faithful
           and unfaithful
              to worship,
       to war,
                   towing their ships
                     towards shores
           they'll never reach, shores already discovered.

       instructed to remain no matter what
    the wreckage might be. A child
       perfecting loss
              and language
           in the same exhale.

    JK—as in Kent, as in
                   Clark Kent: Superman
           name my father found on television
              to be Super American, to make
                   blood out of women.

       L—as in women with lemongrass names
    fragrant as Death
              Valley's decadal Desert
           Its Gravel
    Ghost. Women he'll never come home to,
              writing him from across an ocean.
       MN—as in women he'll never marry
                     or make love to
           in a country that no longer exists.

    Country baptizing him:
              Việt Kiều
           or Traitor
                   or O—as in H.O.
              as in Humanitarian Operation,
                   as in Orderly
    Departure Program, or

           P—as in perhaps Kent be a song
       pretty enough for them to wait,
                   waste their wages
              on black and white portraits
                   sealed in
    parcel he purges.

           QR—as in redacts
       until all proof is gone,
                   as in record destruction.

              But my mother remembers.
    Her fury remembers.

       She recalls him departing
           for the country that disowned him.
    Country divided
       along sunbaked river.
                   Seventeenth Parallel,
              Highway of Ash.

    Terrible twilights
           and sleepless dawns
       pining for a man
                   cast by centuries
              of invasion.

    STU—as in Studies show intimate
           partner violence occurs to express feelings
                   or states of being
              that can't be put into words

    Studies show victims
       Studies show significant correlation
                   between witnessing
           Studies show

    V—as in vanquishers mistaking the vanquished
       for property:
              maps to a territory
           and the territory.

       My mother recites each letter
                   she received
    during his absence,
       their aching requests
                   W—as in Where.
    Where have you gone?
              When are you coming back for me?

       My mother hoists her purpled body
    off the ground. Her velvet dress
                   now a blue inferno.

           She tackles my father.
              She wrangles the sapphire
       wings from his hands.

           XYand Z—as in demilitarized zone:
    closet my mother shuts me in
              while she wrestles
       our sovereignty
                   from a man that thought
           he could make countries
              out of us:

    Golden Hills that called our colonizers
                     to their deaths,
              that survived centuries
                   of conflagration.

           And now I know

    There's no language for the beginning or the end.

           Only the during
              Only an alphabet for today.

       Each letter
           containing a blood-soaked history,
    a body bent over
              in prayer,
       a body bent over its prey.

    Which will be us? Which will we choose, if we're lucky,
           to make the choice?

              My mother running
                   into the street
           with her packed suitcase.

       Me still trapped inside.

    Paul Tran

    Paul Tran is a Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net-nominated poet. Their work appears in MTV, Prairie Schooner, RHINO, which gave them an Editor's Prize, and elsewhere. They received fellowships and residencies from Kundiman, VONA, Poets House, Lambda Literary, Napa Valley Writers Conference, Home School, Vermont Studio Center, The Conversation & Palm Beach Poetry Festival. Paul lives in Brooklyn, where they serve as Poet-In-Residence at Urban Word NYC and Poetry Editor at The Offing.