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Author of this poem:

Robert Rhodes (Yao Xin)
(December 11, 2004)

Dr. Dzung in Kansas

Bangioc Ban Gioc Falls -- Courtesy of Dan Tran

In the Vietnamese
doctor's office
when you come in
some Saturday
you will discover, like
displaced secrets,
the last few shadows
of the doctor's life before
he came here -

In his makeshift
waiting room, these
few relics linger,
like uncertain offspring
from a furtive liaison,
their meanings
kept to themselves,
vague and elemental,
typical of something
no one here can recognize,
unless they too are
likewise lost
amid the world
and its uneasy turnings.

In the half-light
of early afternoon,
a gold fiberglass Maitreya,
a chipped white Kwanyin,
a thicket of red incense stubs
in a clay pot of
ashes and sand
atop a bookcase holding
cloudy yellow decoctions
in soft-drink jugs -

they seem so inevitable,
these bland artifacts,
like cheap replacements
for confiscated treasures -

Perhaps this is
the unpleasant, but
in these parts,
not unheard of
answer to another refugee's
unspoken, unquestioned
minus the barbed wire,
or a sinking, smouldering boat,
or a forgotten voice,
perhaps a woman's
or a child's,
or whatever else
keeps him awake
at night in America.

Sitting and waiting,
trying to conjure
enough French
from college to approximate,
if that is the word,
my various complaints -
I stare at a chart
of acupuncture points:
a ghostly naked
figure coursed by
red and blue
meridians, like faint,
imaginary nerves -
some inner cartography
I cannot grasp
with my riddle-drunk
western mind.

Dr. Dzung
does not speak English
and our encounters,
as I sit on the cool table
behind the Japanese screen,
and he stands with his
silver needles, supple and poised
as rushes in his palm,
devolve into moments of
perplexed laughter,
up-ended Montagnard
glancing nods and
blinks that convey
no understanding
whatsoever -

I try to think of
the French word for
'hip' or 'knee' -
instead, I think of
oreiller, for 'pillow' -
perhaps the blue
silken pillow of Kwanyin's
chipped, pristine
bookcase mercy,
I tell myself.

So on the table
I concentrate
on a thicket of red
incense stubs
crowded in a clay pot
of ashes and sand,
perhaps sea salt,
and on the trophylike Maitreya,
and the medicine,
heavy and inert on the shelf,

as Dr. Dzung quietly
speaks Vietnamese
with another patient
who complains of
afflictions that sound
urgent, and yet
not urgent
in this absence of
language where we
find ourselves,
exiles in our
illusions, basking

in this
vaguely curative light,
with Kansas dust,
quick and austere,
sparkling in midair

Humming Bird
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