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Silhouette of people at beach in Viet Nam

Three Poems by Teresa Mei Chuc

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Praying at the Whale Temple
in the Vũng Tàu

A person who spots a dead whale [in the village] has the responsibility to mourn the death with all the rituals carried out when his/her parent or grandparent passes away.
   – on Viet Nam’s southern coast, a cemetery for whales by Truong Ha

 

At the whale temple,
I kneel down to pray
to the bones of the sea gods
on the altar who bear many names–
Cá Ông, Grandfather fish,
cá voi, elephant fish,
made from a robe and elephant bones
tossed into the sea by Quan Âm Bồ Tát.
I offer incense and flowers
to our great ancestors
who watch over us in the sea,
who have saved many fishermen
in storms, who have balanced boats
and people on their backs.

The fishermen and villagers
bring a beached whale
to the land where she is
given a funeral procession.

There is a whale cemetery
in Bà Rịa – Vũng Tàu Province
in the fishing village
of Phước Hải
where hundreds of whales
are buried, incense and flowers
on each grave.

A woman kneels and prays.

 

 

Chernobyl Necklace

The scar is a pink horizon, sunset at the ocean. Each tree still standing in the Red Forest carries the story in its rings. Blind birds sing, calling to their mates. Broken glass, a plastic doll: the inanimate survive. How many more Aprils will that day be remembered? On my body grow mushrooms that could kill. Out of my heart runs a six-legged deer.

 
Originally appeared in Poet Lore.

 

 

When rubber trees replace native rainforests

for monoculture farming to grow a cash crop
where indigenous trees, medicinal plants, gold snub-nosed

monkeys, elephants, tigers, deer, rivers, lakes, folk songs, dances
thrived. ancestors buried on hills live with gods in sacred forests

we don’t enter or remove even a leaf, because everything
there has a purpose in the whole ecosystem, in the fables

in another world, holding a cell phone with its rubber case,
watching car tires roll by on busy streets, and wherever

we turn, we touch rubber, it is somewhere in our room, in our bodies.
What was taken away from another country to live like this?

 

 

Teresa Mei ChucTeresa Mei Chuc was born in Sài Gòn, Việt Nam, and fled her Vietnamese homeland with her mother and brother shortly after the American war in Việt Nam, spending three and a half months in a freight boat stranded in the South China Sea before being rescued. Her father, who had served in the Army of the Republic of Việt Nam, remained in a Việt Cộng re-education prison camp for nine years. Altadena Poet Laureate, editor-in-chief (2018-2020), and a member of the Pasadena Rose Poets, Teresa Mei Chuc is the author of three full-length collections of poetry: Invisible Light (Many Voices Press, 2018), Keeper of the Winds (FootHills Publishing, 2014) and Red Thread (Fithian Press, 2012). Teresa’s new poetry chapbook, Incidental Takes, was published in June 2023 by Hummingbird Press. It includes the first poem above, “Praying at the Whale Temple in the Vũng Tàu”. Teresa teaches literature and writing at a public high school in Los Angeles.

Header photo by Ben Quick.

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