For each day of National Poetry Month one of our fellows will explore the breadth of poetry in three ways: through a question from another fellow, through a poem and through a writing prompt, #writetoday.
Editor’s Note: For today’s post, Kundiman Fellow Paul Tran discusses details of his experience with child abuse and sexual assault. A video of his performance above also includes a a poetic address of those issues.
Janine Joseph asks, I’ve been thinking recently about some of the first poems that shook and prompted me to respond. In the spirit of Nazim Hikmet, I want to ask you: What are things you didn’t know you loved?
Paul Tran answers, My father started molesting me when I was four.
I remember it all: a hand opening the shower door; my stomach pressed into a car seat; Terminator 2 playing over my screams in an apartment by Montezuma Road. It’s a nightmare that returns to me even now.
When he disappeared in 1999, my mother cut his face from our family photographs. She gave them to me in a grocery bag and said bo thung rac. Throw it away. Nho lam gi? Why remember? Nho chi co lam con them kho thoi. Remembering will only make you suffer.
I still know what his body looks like—how his mouth curled right before coming. How even his cum smelled like Heineken. But I didn’t know I could forgive him. I didn’t know that years later, after I’d grown up and been raped by other men, after the memory and nightmare became indistinguishable, saying the violence’s name aloud—Rape. Incest. Almost murder.—was, in fact, my gesture of forgiveness.
And what do we forgive but a thing we didn’t know we could love?
The video above is of Paul performing “Ice Cream Man” during the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.
Paul Tran is an Asian American historian, activist & spoken word poet from Providence, Rhode Island.