Ghost Of

Diana Khoi Nguyen. Omnidawn, $17.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-63243-052-6
In her innovative debut, Nguyen documents an immigrant family grappling with a son and brother lost to suicide. The opening poem sets the stakes, noting that “There is no ecologically safe way to mourn.” Poems alternate between lyric fragments that are scattered across the page, akin to “ashes into the sea,” and altered family photographs that operate as testimony and generative force. In “Triptych,” a blurry family portrait displays a small figure cut out of the front row; the dead one’s thoughts (“mind/ ful of/ the setti/ ing he co/ unted off/ the seconds/ in his head”) subsequently fill the cut-out shape of the preceding page; and the final section inserts the speaker’s detached, obsessive, looping voice in the space of the original photograph while still preserving the original cut-out’s white space. Poems that follow map the violent impact of the brother’s ghostly presence in the speaker’s life: “A mother sticks a spoon into my chest,/ which is an empty bowl, actually,// so the spoon lands quickly/ and loudly.” The visual experimentation in such poems as “Gyotaku,” which refers to a Japanese print method used by fishermen to record catches, hint at the creativity survivors need to fill in the gaps. Though devastating, Nguyen’s impressive lyrico-visual rendering details survival despite overwhelming tragedy. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 06/04/2018
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