Angie Chuang


When I took a trip in 2003 to Vietnam to pursue a story for my job as a newspaper journalist, I returned with an irrepressible urge to chronicle the experience in poetry. I tried and tried to write free verse, only to find that my thoughts and emotions rambled and spilled forth without limits or structure. On a whim, I tried to write a Shakespearean sonnet about a single scene in Ho Chi Minh City. It worked. For the next year or so, I wrote dozens of sonnets -- Shakespearean, Petrarchan, Spenserian, modified ones of my own invention -- about Vietnam. They were a mental exercise, molding thoughts into rhyme schemes the way that a crossword-puzzle freak relishes ordering letters into squares. But more than that, they were a way to give form to and to contain the many thoughts and feelings I had about Vietnam, and the war’s legacy.





Phú Lâm Nail Factory

Steely ropes coil like deflated springs.
Clockwork-bursts sound out the birth
Of each nail, separated from the string
Of continuous metal, a terse
Declaration of industry, a verse
In the hammering ballad
Of this village’s pale dusty earth.
It meets the foul, black river, becomes mud.
A wheelbarrow pushed by an invalid –
He limps and grins, one blue-rimmed eye,
Another opaque brown. In echoing thuds,
In wheelbarrows full of nails, karma lies.
One man’s life, a debt paid.
Always more nails to be made.


Tôn Đức Hydrofoil Station

The Saigon River flows this way, opaque
And oily. Past tangled mangroves, along
The station’s concrete bank. A restless throng
Stares down the homeward current. They wait,
Standing over bags of fruit that will sate
Hungry ghosts. The river’s memory runs long
As the voices of the drowned, as the songs
Of the vanished. Return for the dead’s sake.

A woman sells a bundle of leaf-wrapped rice
To a long-haired American. He muses,
This heavy cylinder is like artillery,
Testing its weight. His memory loses
Its shrill edge. Today’s hazy air belies
The horizon, and other things we cannot bury.



Angie_Chuang.jpgAngie Chuang is a journalist in Portland, Oregon, who writes poetry and literary non-fiction about the intersections of cultures, or as Salman Rushdie describes, "worlds in collision."  Her poetry has been published in CALYX, Mizna, The Grove Review and other journals and anthologies.  She received a 2007 Oregon Literary Fellowship in Creative Non-Fiction for her book manuscript-in-progress, a memoir centered on a 2004 trip to Afghanistan.  An excerpt of that memoir appears in the Lonely Planet's travel-writing anthology, Tales from Nowhere.  She is a staff writer for The Oregonian, and has traveled to Afghanistan, Vietnam (twice), and the post-Katrina Gulf Coast in pursuit of stories.  More Rushdie: "How do you make people see that everyone's story is part of everyone else's story?"