This week we’re delighted to offer up a new poem by Mai Der Vang. Vang’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Weave Magazine, Red Branch, The Boiler, the Lantern Review, and Troubling Borders: An Anthology of Art and Literature by Southeast Asian Women in the Diaspora, among others. As an editorial member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle, Mai Der served as co-editor of How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. She is an MFA candidate in poetry at Columbia University, a Kundiman fellow, and has completed residencies at Hedgebrook.
This poem gestures at the notion of displacement and ultimately at the sense of an entire landscape in exile. As a Hmong American, I am drawn to poetry that attempts to recreate the experience of loss, in this case, the futility brought on by war. Though I was born (and raised) in Fresno, CA, just after my parents resettled as refugees from Laos, I am constantly haunted by their experience of war. It is my inheritance, this gift of exile, a reminder that should I lose these notions, no matter how traumatic they may be, I might lose a part of my cultural and personal history. So I retain them in writing.
The Hmong text in this poem operates as a sort of refrain, illuminating the collective voice against the individual. The phrases translate as:
Peb yog: “We are.”
Peb yog hmoob: “We are Hmong.”
Peb yeej ib txwm yog hmoob: “We have always been Hmong.”
Light From a Burning Citadel