Two poems by Natalie Linh Bolderston

 
 

    Thất Tịch

 

Seventh Month, Saigon, 1975

 

They share a dish of beans like small blood clots,
believing they will one day wake to a tea ceremony,
mâm quả, a blessing written on the wall. She rides home
on the front of his bicycle as their city reddens.

She threads seven needles in poor light,
stitches his ring into the left cuff of her blouse.
She swears that every mưa ngâu is a new ghost
wringing out its hair.

He barters for extra cigarettes, holds a match
to her lips. In the sky, they see the husk
of a silver river, the wing-shaped breath
of two exiled gods.

Neither know that they will each cross the sea
five years apart, that when she sleeps
they will meet on a bridge
woven from the spines of birds.

 
 

Note: Thất Tịch is a festival celebrating love, which takes place on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The festival stems from the myth of the weaving goddess and the cowherd, who fell in love but were banished to opposite sides of the Milky Way. They are said to meet once a year on a bridge formed by a flock of magpies.
Mâm quả: wedding gifts wrapped in red paper or cloth.
Mưa ngâu: intermittent summer showers, said to be the tears of the weaving goddess and the cowherd.

 


 

    Love Poem on the Drive to [ ]

 

South Vietnam, 1978

 

When she asks where is left to go?
        he only says to water.
She fingers the Quan Âm statue on the dashboard,
        the glue-filled crack in the neck,
              the hands weathered down to cuffs of light.
The red-tasselled charm lashes the mirror
        as he follows the unpatrolled road.
She is pregnant again. She imagines the child
        the length of her shinbone, its weight as sure
              as a white flower gourd.
He stops the car and touches her stomach.
        She sings the only song he taught her
              in his first tongue.

 
 
Note: Quan Âm is the goddess of compassion.
 

Natalie Linh Bolderston

About Natalie Linh Bolderston

Natalie Linh Bolderston is a Vietnamese-Chinese-British poet. She was a runner-up in the 2019 BBC Proms Poetry Competition, came third in the 2019 National Poetry Competition, and received an Eric Gregory Award in 2020. Her pamphlet, 'The Protection of Ghosts', is published with V. Press. Find her on Twitter @NatBolderston.