Uyen Pham

Definition no. 18111996

 Definition no.18: [Vietnamese]


  1. Spoons of baby porridge cooled in your mother’s mouth.
  2. Yellow sweat stains on every white school uniform shirt in your closet.
  3. Literature textbooks full of tales about people so alive and so close to death. Poems written beneath the roar of B-52s. Lines of poetry jump from patriotism to long-distance lovers.
  4. Your grandpa’s left hand was missing an index finger. Your other grandpa drove dark green trucks without windshields through dark green mountain trails.
  5. Grandma stacks food for every time you come over. You love fried pork rinds, the food she fed your father for 30 years. Now, the sight of it makes vomit rise in his throat.
  6. Rice paddy fields in grandma’s crooked back and broken toenails. Paddy fields in the twenty-five-kilometer distance between home and daddy’s office. Your drool wet on the back of his work shirt, body slipping away from the motorbike seat. When daddy stopped the engine in the middle of the road to hold your three-year-old dreams in his arms, paddy fields were in his eyes.


Bố mẹ yêu con are never spoken words. That becomes a family tradition. When you are young, your parents ask if you need more money. When you get older, they tell you they don’t need no money. That’s how you hear those words with your hands.


Definition no. 11: Thế hệ sau Đổi Mới


  1. The Renovation Generation born after Vietnam’s economic reform in 1986.
  2. “You’re not Cinderella. GO. HOME. AT. 9.” – said every mother to her daughter.
  3. The sepia ukulele needs to hide in a friend’s closet whenever your parents come to visit. Remember what social class you are in? You cannot study something just because you like it. In case you do, prepare for a long-term cold war.
  4. Your uncle beats his wife for years. No big deal, just a casual Sunday dinner story. When the scrap dealer in the village had his baby, grandma told your aunt that she should have been prettier.
  5. Explain your depression. What do you mean you can’t? God, you have food and clothes and everything


Definition no. 1996: International Student


  1. To check flight tickets when you’re abroad.
  2. To check flight tickets when you’re home.


  1. White officer greets you in Chinese at the airport.
  2. An expiration date on the blue visa for your ass to get kicked out. In case you steal jobs from Americans.
  3. “I’m so tired of talking about racism… Can’t we just do homework?” — asked roommate.
  4. Kids have double majors. One for themselves, one for the parents.
  5. Explaining “liberal arts education” to dad over Skype for ten minutes and him furrowing his eyebrows: “Can’t I just lie to people about your major?”
  6. English conversations with Vietnamese Americans.
  7. Phở is eight times more expensive in Kalamazoo.


You have the one-dollar-thirty-cent phở with dad and your brother on Sunday mornings, sitting on child-size stools scattered along the narrow alley just a couple of steps from your house. All the narrow, crooked and damp alleys in Hanoi. Days, you roam on your dusty Honda to find your favorite people, and have three-hour conversations over bạc xỉu and đen đá. *“Đường dài không cuối không đầu, có mấy ai vượt khó. Đường dài không cuối không đầu, có mấy ai trở về”.

*Lyrics from “Khắp Xung Quanh” (All around) by Ngọt,roughly translated as: “Long road, no end, no beginning, barely anyone made it. Long road, no end, no beginning, barely anyone came back.”



family game

[instead] [Quân asks the doctor for] [injection] [death]
[Vy’s clothes & comestics] [Khoa’s salary:]
[fifth time] [Dương’s boyfriend mentions marriage]
[Khoa:] [a good man] [pays the hospitall bills for his wife and son]
In this puzzle when pieces don’t match, you keep playing.
[Vy:] [Khoa fell in love] [pretty]
[second child:] [first child:] [healthy; ugly] [pretty; ill]
[Khoa bought Dương a house in the city] [knows] [Dương’s boyfriend]
[Quân:] [a small, fragile kid] [excels at mental bullying]
Is there an odd-one-out here?
[to know pain early in life] [his peers] [Quân wants] [like he does]
[Dương:] [takes after] [loves] [her father] [a gold-digger]
[Vy:] [too skinny] [couldn’t give birth to healthy babies]
Taking all pieces out, the blank cardboard behind looks whole.


About the author: Uyen Pham studies Anthropology & Sociology at Kalamazoo College, but her heart lies in Hanoi, Vietnam. She is 21 on her passport, but likes to think of herself as 18+. Her other poems can be found in Poet.ry &:

0 Responses

  1. […] Published in Girls Right The World […]