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dab dab hae

I mourn the loss of diacritics. I see the diacritics in the Vietnamese language and fall in love. What is the flavor of colonialism above a letter.

The six tones of water. The voice is waves from the animals inside our throat, mouth, space. The applause of the facial auditorium.

Each day my throat breaks the symmetry of mourning – not like the religious way of breaking bread.

And, from it—

I hug language from the inside

The embrace is another membrane. Another garment.

Inside of language, an Hesperonesian okra tree spreads its skinny ass.

Or rather lady’s fingers

If I wake up made of tightly bound silk, pull me apart and give me back to the silkworm.

The spiders.

The sewing parties.

The cocoons and hammocks and webs and nests.

We love to wear their homes.

To raise awareness for agricultural fashion

Rice paddies as verdant aprons

Garments of threshing and of husk

And, it goes without much notice

We love to skinny dip in Viet-Muong subbranch machine

There is this inverted “no” that exists in Korean’s airlessness that
matches my native Vietnamese. Not metaphorically speaking. Either that : don’t let me confuse the moon for wearing a flat hat.

Please don’t let me confuse these green stalks of rice plant for my mother’s missing scoldings.

Every rural Korean story I’ve read has rats in the rice. Or the exclusion of them.

It must always be scorching in Asian languages. Even the vowels and consonants wear hats to protect themselves from the sun.

I sat my vowels down next to water closet, next to Hồ Xuân Hương and Seo Yeongsuhap,² and witnessed the fragrance of my mourning’s elaborate account of silk being reborn as

Longing longans

Beseechful leeches

Languishing language

Whims of destiny

Quan phòng³ (phòng ngủ⁴) của định mệnh

Not long after, my memory is abbreviated by the husky wind from the North. The land I saw has trees that move like Austroasiatic ghosts

My umbrella, a diacritical mark, sitting next to my middle name

Only a few letters short of being a tongue itself

I’m always doing the washing of the alphabet wrong, the starch sticking to the grains.

This rice water slightly sweeter than rain.
The soap that hides her thick saliva of lubricant

Our American mothers didn’t know we were supposed to stay as pale as possible. A personal alphabet of freckles and sun spots and age spots blooming their melanin messages across my face!

Country people carrying water on a wooden yoke, up and down the mountain path. Our water color future.

While we are alive we are waterproof.

While we dance, the alphabet becomes different immigrants of pronouns, nouns

And, what about the asylum seekers of súp lơ trắngcauliflower , 내 사랑
nae salang ?

The adjective forgets to breathe out
To eat its own green, wrong words
Its lacquered coated rice bowl
its heartbeat floating in a water basin

And, the country breaks in half while water bottles have become thinner in plastic

Everything spills out in permanent exile

As if to exist is sexy

As if to exist is sexist

Hey, Is the sexiest word in Vietnamese: sầu riêng⁵ or vực sâu⁶?

Is your first name “rice” or your middle name “flour”?

And, have you forgotten the last name of my old proverb: 누워서 떡 먹기 (nuwoseo tteog meoggi)

I am a mother now

A separation mutation of tongue-wombness

Although my Korean is a drunk toddler —
Have you?
Eaten rice cake while lying down?

Packed spring onions and jeotgal in your PayPal account ?

Have you told your stretch marks lately that Google is hiring corrugated boxes as


Mon Amour ?

Monosyllabic orphans as thạnh suy bỉ thới phú⁷ kimchi, napa cabbage in an ethic/nonethic ngã

다 된 밥에 재 뿌리지 마라 (da doen babe jae ppuriji mara)

Don’t spread ashes over cooked rice

Don’t trim your fingernails by the side of a river

The rat who ate the fingernails of the student took his form and convinced his family that he, the rat, was the returning son, and enjoyed the warmth of the hearth, good meals, affection of the mother and father.

Don’t spoil other people’s happiness with your doppelgänger(s).

Don’t die and come back hungrier than before.

These old proverbs make me feel young again.

The new Romanization makes me as if I’m written in a dead language.

The flavor is dust-coated with chữ nho⁸

In Vietnamese “nho” means “grapes”/ “chữ” connotes “words”

Wine, scent of bitterness, grows culture

I gave a poetry reading at a wine shop, we were surrounded by orderly walls of bottled sunlight, captured energy, vessels of time. I thought of Athena, disguising herself as a man when visiting Odysseus, riding the wine-dark sea.

Athena whose mother is wise, is Metis.
Athena who bursts out of Zeus’s skull during her [re]birth.
Athena who lived in a womb of a womb

Her pre-natal breath: an integument in between integument

The vineyard at the bottom of the ocean, where even light cannot succumb to gravity.

In the kingdom under the sea, the daughter has made her sacrifice.

I feel wedded to a field of pearls. Made in darkness, what use have they for light, to reflect.

“Nacre is iridescent because the thickness of the calcium carbonate layer is similar to the wavelength of light. Light reflected from the outer surface is therefore able to interfere with light reflected from the inner surface.” – webexhibits.org

It’s a coincidence.

When do we turn into wavelengths of light.

in grave-lowering (huyền), in falling (ngã)

There there, the ghost mothers the child
Taking her through a pavilion of

The rice plant
The herbal note
The equestrian code
The weird tone of my audio-less words giving voice lessons to seaweed

In a fungal culture that is not my own

It’s Saturday once again, after the minor chords of yesteryears,

We are filled with ghosts and I think there is infinite space inside us. Ghosts are masters of physics and scale. Ghosts are guests and hosts, occupiers and masters, servants and doctors. They cannot wound. They can pour light onto the wound.

Pay attention. It is fungible, exchangeable, as four quarters is the same as a dollar. Pay it anywhere it is accepted as currency. Pay only where your attention has violated the code

of sleeping past the mid-afternoons
where wine from three decades ago bathes in Nagaland amber, in gold, in survival, in acidity

in ceramic vat
in nón⁹-glutinous water vessel

My ethnic origin is watery

Yuca, cassava fermented

An instrument of manioc pulp
Thick skinness

The night I gave a poetry reading in Kakslauttanen Hotel in Finland
to a group of Japanese nuns wearing a conical hat the shape of a rabbit origami

Glass jars lined themselves like small silos along the horizon’s countryside

The water buffalo walked slowly and quietly
Dragging a scythe of Christianity behind its hind legs
Slicing the heads of boredom and modesty
While I drank soju rice
Mid-reading a dragonfly flew into my throat

The Northern Lights perforated through the semi-translucent pages

where my throat glowed like a glass igloo

Like the hotel
Or waterfall
weighting 49 stones

Ah, sister Kimchi Stew

Are you more married to pork or scallion?

Ah, sister Offal Stew (Sister Phá Lấu)
Are you divided by the house of garlic or the house of ngũ vị hương¹⁰?

Ah, sister Duck Blood Soup (Tiết Canh Vịt¹¹)
Are you animal organ broth or are you fully coagulated?

Drained of your chopped mint,
I am as delicate as anchovy

Demigods or mortals
Forgive my polydipsia for evergreens

In my mouth’s table of contents
Arsenic has replaced MSG

By evening, the
Translucent ghosts have followed my shadows home from a temple
They travel nocturnally, bearing torches the shape of ojingeochae muchim¹²

In the dark, a child has fallen into a well. Her lacquered mouth filled with liminal fragments of gochukaru¹³ and
Hecate, the goddess of necromancy. She just stares and stares into
the black swimming pool of my soy sauce


They say
How demonic her long exposure to witchcraft
But I say

It’s really beautiful how serpent like the portal from one beansprout to the next

An embryo develops by curling in and breathing out
A rocking motion

How thick and gravity-full the red sauce is when I pour the marinated catfish from those bibimbap stone bowls

I don’t understand ritual
I understand pouring
I understand a bowl

How easily I slip in between the cracks of a pork dumpling steamer

How I close my eyes
And, my eyes closed the doors to all things slanted
with curries, freshwater eels, Nhật Trường
flatbreads, Trần Thiện Thanh, lentils, chickpeas, suimono¹⁴
hitsumabushi hiding in a bush
wiggling to the 1968 Rừng Lá Thấp¹⁵ — eight years after my mom’s birth

My daughter, I whisper, to my mother
You are my Yellow Dress reimagined
You are the hem of my life

The waterfall hotel has a thousand rooms
A thousand
Oxygen tanks
A thousand
Xenon, the stranger
Neon, the new

The proscenium arch of each stage, cliff, water carving
Bent by the symmetry of a serpent

Portals for the gods
Portals of childhood

Childhood is my god
My adult self’s job is to protect my childhood
As if my childhood is a mother dragon protecting the last egg

Because each childhood is sacred, the only one, the last one
is caked in broken rice
Spread thin with vegan pâté
A roll of knives for traveling

The great equality thus far of humanity until someone invents a way to bypass childhood which will be a great tragedy
Although childhoods are filled with water and rooms
& mountains of cloth tiger

The kites flock the desolate, amyotrophic sky
for oval citrus falling into bowls of dumpling soup
High in scallion
skin fragrance of juice

The desert cottontails —
the armadillos in Texas, the raptures
Their wings don’t work — they are not supposed to be in cages —
They can’t hunt
They get eaten

I am torn by the things in the zoo
I am torn by the anatomy of not knowing

A labyrinth of ashes
The fire that works through our alimentary canal
Entrance and exit

Orange peel lemon body

음식 (eumsik) means “food”, but sometimes 밥 (bab) is used to say “meal” or “food” even though it means “rice”

Oval citrus kite of peels

I sit on the upper deck of a Sailboat & read my poetry to
a pelagic audience beneath
Blue earth marked by striated scars

I Ship my memory in
Symmetry of wings, cages, ribs, enclosure, vessel, bowl, float
The weight of a body in water
The animacy of breath

Breath visible underwater, an exhale
I wrote underweather

Your personality is an umbrella
Most languages like rain plinking off the roof

Often I have to live life from a distance
My parents are very Asian.
What is your dog’s name?
Dog. It protects the house.
What is your cat’s name?

Walking somewhat upright I miss so much
Head on a stalk
Like a flower riveted
Cut but unknowing
Drinking water from the tap
Out of the greenhouse

The sadness of things
The loneliness of color

I make the mistake of dancing in the wind without asking if the pregnant whale has bitten off the bitter melon dangling from my drone’s armpit.

Have you eaten?
Have you eaten rice?
What have you done with the hulls?
What have you done with the color white?

The arithmetic of seaweed
Its many handed hello
Greetings like sunlight filtering downward
The weight of solar rays

Private speech bubbles
Giant radio of the head
Tuning to frequencies
The cosmos is organized
A giant kitchen is erected in the middle of an island
Heat, light, pockets, the visible, the audible, the flammable

In a sliced form, the sunlight travels from my eyesight to the edge of the cornfield
The silk, the silk, the shaking of the silk
The first time I had ok su su cha, corn tea, I turned into a crow
The delicacy of roasted corn water
The taste of starch, the taste of fire, the taste of time

I can only return to a place, an ovary filled with lightning
The thunderstorms come and come, shaking
the hips of cars, unlocking my vertebrates, my raucous voice, my inky, Stygian plumage,
Then, I spread my unfortunate wings, widen my wretched, crepuscular muscle
I close my bill around the head of a rat who
wanders the train station like a homeless poet

Mid-flight I re-filled my lungs with germs & the density of the daylight and water as it
unfolds and refolds my music box like an origami
And, just like that
I am no longer dusty, ruinous, nor woeful

The snake inside my spine inhales
Swallows rivers
The power of miniaturization
Dollhouses for snakes
A bed for every dream
A world overtaken by beds and bedrooms
Each lung is a folded fan, it closes in on itself

I fan and fan myself like a morning odalisque
Like the night swallowing the day
Like the symmetry swallowing the paradox

Spiritual janitorial services
Restaurants of the underworld
Plates and clatter
Field mice in suits
Firehouse poles
Energetic lines of flight, escape, exit
Fragments of fermented parsnips
into snappy flavors
옹기 ong gi
Clay pot for fermentation
Where a fish soaks its decapitated head in oil and vinegar
Shades of extraction, gentle bones

What is a synonym for time
Endurance, waiting, patience, holding, stand by, pause, be
A bed of chinese kale,
Overflowing my tongue with Vitamin K

I hover over my bathtub
Letting the arteries flow out of me
Milky iron & platelets
Cotton candies by the side of the road
Clouds by the side of the road
Like broken pieces of milk
Glass regathered under fire
a round window
the eye
rough glances

Into the very porches of the body
The threshold of the king’s ear
Leisure in the garden
The winter is here
An adjective misplaced by the alphabet hearth



1. While “dab-dab-hae” has several different meanings, including “airless” or “suffocating,” it is frequently used metaphorically to describe the physical sensation of suffocation triggered by agitation. It is the inability to speak or act more freely in a situation. For example, someone who’s trapped in “sseom-ta-d”a (defined later in the article) may experience “dab-dab-hae”. It is a concept that is often used in Korean dramas. When you’re dealing with language learning anxiety, there are some simple tricks to avoid “dab-dab-hae” : https://www.optilingo.com/blog/korean/beautiful-korean-words/
2. Seo Yeongsuhap was born into a high-ranking family, the Dalseong Seo clan (달성 서씨, 達城 徐氏), as the daughter of the governor of Gangwon Province, Seo Hyeong-su.
She was reportedly known for her abilities in mathematics.[1] She published hundreds of poems in an anthology, and included an appendix to her husband’s memoir.[2] In the Korean society of her time, women were not supposed to have any official role, and she was one of very few women published during the Joseon dynasty. Alongside Yi Bingheogak, she is mentioned as one of two female scholars to make a name for themselves within practical learning.[1]

3. quan phòng = providence
4. phòng ngủ = bedroom
5. sầu riêng = durian
6. vực sâu  = abyss
7. Vietnamese scholar: Trương Vĩnh Ký or Jean-baptiste Pétrus or Pétrus Ky’s Whims of Destiny
8. Classical Chinese
9. as in “nón lá” = conical hats
10. ngũ vị hương = five spice powder
11. Tiết Canh Vịt = Duck Blood Soup
12. Ojingeochae Muchim = dried squid
13. gochukaru = Korean hot chili pepper
14. suimono=soup course
15. Rừng Lá Thấp = Low Hanging Forest


SUN YUNG SHIN is a Korean-born poet, writer, editor, and cultural worker based in Minneapolis. Her most recent books are The Wet Hex, winner of the Society of Midland Authors Award for Poetry and What We Hunger For: Refugee and Immigrant Stories about Food and Family. A recent MacDowell fellow, and recipient of an Asian American Literary Award and other grants and fellowships, Shin is co-author of the forthcoming picture book Revolutions are Made of Love: The Story of James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs. With poet Su Hwang she is the co-founder of Poetry Asylum and is a teaching artist with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop and elsewhere.
VI KHI NAO is the author of many books and is known for her work spanning poetry, fiction, play, film, and interdisciplinary collaborations. Her forthcoming novel, The Italy Letters, is scheduled for publication by Melville House in 2024. In the same year, she will release a co-authored manuscript titled, The Six Tones of Water with Sun Yung Shin, through Ricochet. Recognized as a former Black Mountain Institute fellow, Vi Khi Nao received the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelist Prize in 2022.