This month in history: May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam, April 8, 2007 / D. Nelson / Creative Commons

The month of May is designated as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. In its honor we publish a short selection of poems by Asian and Pacific American writers.

‘sanctuary under a palm frond’ by Winnie Wong *

vincent graduated from high school at age 13.
they said he was a genius and spoke 6 languages
who never lost a game of chess.

my grandmother stood in line for the tiniest sliver of fish,
and enough salt to brim two thimbles.

the oatmeal dwindled so they mixed it with yams,
which grew in the garden, while shells ricocheted off the soil.

their parents spent nights praying to remote gods
for forgiveness from such common crimes of the heart.

that the children should be spared.
they murmured,
methodically combing the lice
from their soft scalps.

it was a bright, hot morning.
in singapore,
when the shelling began in earnest.

your family fled slipping on sheafs of tropical palm fronds
and the abandoned belongings of their neighbors.

she said it was like an optical illusion.
the way her youngest brother lay dying in her arms.

* * *

‘Anniversary’ by Patricia Ikeda *

End of summer and
orchards sell peaches so ripe
welts crack open, wet mouths.
The clear juice
perfumes the kitchen.

Today’s the anniversary,
the newspaper says.
This first week in August
tourists come in droves,
shopkeepers set out displays.

I spoon bits of
ripe peach into pies, rinse
the clear glass bowl.

the paper says,

“a hole in history”

Breeze from the west
riffles the curtains. Pies
on the counter, small things
and large all sliding
toward the glowing clouds,
eaten away. I
turn on the faucet, lift
a glass of water
turned red, turned round
and big as fire.

* * *

‘The Aphrodisiac’ by Arthur Sze *

“Power is my aphrodisiac.”
Power enables him to
connect a candle-lit dinner
to the landing on the moon.
He sees a plot in the acid
content of American soil,
malice in the configuration
of palm-leaf shadows.
He is obsessed with
the appearance of democracy
in a terrorized nation.
If the price of oil
is an owl claw, a nuclear
reactor is a rattlesnake
fang. He has no use
for the song of an oriole,
bright yellow wings.
He refuses to consider
a woman in a wheelchair
touching the shadow of
a sparrow, a campesino
dreaming of spring.
He revels in the instant
before a grenade explodes.

* (From Poets Against the War, edited by Sam Hamill, New York: Thunder’s Mouth Books/Nation Press, 2003.)

* * *

‘Condemnation’ by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, born in 1926, is a Buddhist priest and writer from Vietnam, now resident in France. He lived in the United States off and on for several decades, exerting a profound influence on the American peace movement.

Listen to this:
Yesterday six Vietcong came through my village.
Because of this my village was bombed—completely destroyed.
Every soul was killed.
When I come back to my village now, the day after,
There is nothing to see but clouds of dust and the river, still flowing.
The pagoda has neither roof nor altar.
Only the foundations of houses are left.
The bamboo thickets are burned away.

Here in the presence of the undisturbed stars,
In the invisible presence of all the people still alive on earth,
Let me raise my voice to denounce this filthy war,
This murder of brothers by brothers!
I have a question: Who pushed us into this killing of one another?

Whoever is listening, be my witness!
I cannot accept this war,
I never could, I never shall.
I have to say this a thousand times before I am killed.

I feel I am like a bird which dies for the sake of its mate,
Dripping blood from its broken beak, and crying out:
Beware! Turn around and face your real enemies—
Ambition, violence, hatred, greed.

Men cannot be our enemies—even men called “Vietcong”!
If we kill men, what brothers will we have left?
With whom shall we live then?

(From Poems of Protest Old and New, ed. Arnold Kenseth, New York: Macmillan, 1968.)

For more on Thich Nhat Hanh see here.


Special to People’s World
Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.