Review: Ghosts Still Walking

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This death is my love,
this short life, a single
battle instead of
a century of defeat,
my only hope for you.

The counterpart to this was a poem that appeared in the latter part of the collection, entitled “Firestorm.” Despite its use of Confucius and traditional views of women, the poem’s applicability to present-day was chilling, both hopeful of all the progress that has been made in terms of equality, but also reminding of the need to continue the fight. It was in this poem that the balance of history and modernity was most strongly felt.

In the East, women are often referred to as phoenixes, and
men, as dragons.

I admired the way Do Nguyen was able to use simple language to deliver such an emotional impact, considering the fact that language was another central theme of the collection, closely tied with the topic of culture. The middle section, “Tongues of Fire,” is made up of four fragments, each focusing on one language, which I found to be the most successful in addressing the topic. Despite focusing on Mandarin, French, English, and Vietnamese, there was an aspect of universality to the poems, in lines such as:

Am I savage for wanting to speak in the only language that
will not slice my tongue into slivers so small I might
swallow them?

It’s practically impossible not to find something relatable in these poems, regardless of your own culture or upbringing. The structure was the only ‘shortcoming’ of the collection, mainly due to its jumpy nature. While there is something haunting about being able to read a poem about war and then one about a long-distance lover in the span of a few pages, it was at the same time difficult to place some of them, like “From the Dragon King to the Fairy Queen, on the Day They Parted Ways,” in the overall context. Other, shorter poems sometimes got overshadowed by the heavier and more emotionally-packed pieces, though they played an equally significant part of a relatively calm pause in between the emotional storms.

I cannot tell whether the
earth is shaking under the distant gunfire or if
it is my bones quivering as I try and
hold you close for the final time.

(from “The Final Night”)

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

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