The winter stars, months later,
Would ask why I went there. Why I went
Knowing what the cellar held. Abyss.
Stillness. The dark mounting me, a saddle.
To the stars nothing could come close to
Their diminishment, celestial and light-years
Away. At the time, I really didn’t
Know I was making a mistake. I heard
The birdcall of desire and flew.
Red-breasted and alone. Into a nest of
Night woven with moonlight. Threads
Of it tightening and brightening,
His hold on me the spectral presence
Of a makeshift heaven. I sought
A home in ghosts and grieved what
Was never there. Would the real thing
Be any different? All along the fog
On the window was my breath
Seeking a vessel to crack wide open.
They’re right, the monks robed in mud.
Their breaths sour and unrepentant.
You think you’re safe?
Thoughts thrown like a spear
Into mirrors. And the mirage shatters.
Then the return to the prismatic
Prison. Solitude to wade into. A pond,
Cold, dark––But safe. No more thinking
Whether an ally’s words hid a blade beneath
The tongue. Assume the worst,
And set fire to the Trojan horse. Invasion:
The armed men in the belly of a
Carefully worded truce. Once Lucifer
Was loyal, kissing the hand of God. Once
The world came to you like a small child.
NGHIEM TRAN was born in Vietnam and raised in Kansas. He is a Kundiman Fellow. His work can be seen in American Poetry Review, The Adroit Journal, the Offing, Wildness, and elsewhere.