cover image Not Here

Not Here

Hieu Minh Nguyen. Coffee House, $16.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-56689-509-5

Nguyen (This Way to the Sugar) attempts a courageous exorcism of shame in his brilliant and disquieting second collection, exposing the baggage of living as a queer person of color in a white-supremacist, classist, heteronormative society. He illuminates how one can find a home inside self-hate, how "grief can taste of sugar if you run/ your tongue along the right edge." Nguyen's fearful mother symbolizes the wider world, her homophobia and internalized racism evident in her response to a picture of his white boyfriend who "will keep you safe." Nguyen articulates feelings of inadequacy engendered by his mother's judgment in heartrending detail: "she knelt in front of a shrine & asked// to be blessed with a daughter & here I am: the wrong/ monster; truck stop prom queen in his dirt gown." Another specter lurks, of Nguyen's memories of sexual abuse. "Somewhere in this story I am nine years old/ filling the loud hollows with cement to drown out the ghost," Nguyen writes. And a series of poems titled "White Boy Time Machine" contends with xenophobia and imperialism: "I look out the window/ & I don't see a sunset, I see a man's// pink tongue razing the horizon." Nguyen communicates with stunning clarity the ambivalence of shame, how it can commandeer one's life and become almost a comfort. (Apr.)