The Grandmother of


Who knows my grandmother?

Who remembers her?

asks the girl who doesn’t

have memories

to remember her for.

All that is left of her is

that she is the grandmother

of the girl.


Of course there have been

words too

narrative attempts

to tell the separation

the dreams

the unknown death

in an unknown place.


Of course the girl boarded a plane

some thirty years later

looked at the checkered tiles

of the house where

she was raised

for three short years

without understanding

what she was supposed

to see in them.

Of course the girl visited

the grandmother’s grave

and wrote again and again

about that afternoon


the motorbike ride in the jungle

the gravestone hugged by creepers

the red incense sticks in the bamboo vase

the tears that would not come

to soften the hard mud

the spider in the white helmet

the burning bite on the girl’s forehead—

how many times did she try

to write on the implication of that scene

while the swelling grew to become

as large as a quail egg

and stayed so for weeks in a row.


Did the girl’s grandmother ever eat

boiled bird embryos

a popular dish

in Southeast Asian countries?

Who knows

what she enjoyed





What world

did she live in?

What world did she offer

her grandaughter?

The girl likes to tell

that the grandmother

listened the whole day long

to the American Forces Vietnam Network

because if she didn’t

how come the girl

knows so many American songs

from the sixties

as if they were lullabies?


The girl cherishes that image

of her grandmother

sewing at night

her face both lit up and erased

by the light of the desk lamp

the girl doesn’t know

where this image comes from

a dream or a photograph

reduced to nothingness since

nobody remembers anything.


The grandmother of

the girl died

nobody knows


Telling will always be telling stories

of the loss, that creature

as indomitable as she is


Telling won’t tell

anything to anyone

about the loss itself.


There’s nothing else

the girl can do

but write

a story nobody knows

there’s nothing else

she can be

but be

the granddaughter of

a woman nobody


a woman nothing

is left of

not even a memory—


Who is she

the grandmother of?,

asks the girl who remembers

the painful bite.


(Sabine Huynh, unpublished)

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