i have called myself every name/ a border/ then a bridge/ two halves then two wholes/ exhausted every language/ an orphan tongue looking for a mother/ a word that looks like a womb i can crawl inside//
we love the hyphen for the same reason we love apostrophes/ they erase spaces/ so automatically, systematically/ we can’t remember what the space contained/ in english, we use hyphens to make the words we do not have/ for when the dictionary has no entry/ the hyphen renders an emptiness/ an invisibility/ an existence only between the lines/ only when we speak the same language/ my body, carved by the sharp edge of a hyphen/ to fit in a space that will still name it alien//
this is why “vietnamese-american” is stuck in my teeth/ why it stumbles out like the last few droplets of a faucet sputtering off/ a reflex, not an agency/ the tongue – each muscle cell an imprint of “what are you”//
we only have names for what we know/ i am a late bloomer/ born into a mouth with a palate already hardened/ no wonder there is no name for me/ but tell me, what is a name but a sound by which you are summoned home/ what is a name but the soft glow of the kitchen light/ as you pull into the driveway/ the smell of soup seeping out through the gap under the front door/ my name is the sound of a single soprano voice/ sustaining an impossible note/ a dissonance in a chorus of a million other impossible notes/ a call/ a response/ whatever your language calls that//
Kimberly Nguyen is a poet originally from Omaha, Nebraska but current living and working in New York City. She is a recent graduate of Vassar College, where she studied English and Russian Studies. She is a recipient of a Beatrice Daw Brown Prize and has appeared in the Vassar Student Review, Project Yellow Dress, Vietnamese Boat People, and Teen Vogue.