Your mother tells you the virus levels in her liver

have increased past what is considered fatal.

She can barely tell you this without bursting into tears,

her mortality so clear to her now, it might as well

be on the other side of her bedroom. You’re her son,

but you wish you were a stranger, someone whom she deems

is inappropriate to fall apart in front of, whom she’ll

turn away from and scrub the dishes before she shows

any sign that she isn’t as strong as she’d like you

to think, that she craves tenderness like any human being.

Of course this wish drills a shard of guilt into your stomach.

But you’ve learned to accommodate worst. Loneliness, grief, despair,

what’s a little guilt in comparison? And anyway, what use

can you possibly be to her? The truth is, you’re told,

we’re alone in our suffering. No one can make our pain

any more bearable than what we’re capable of doing ourselves.

At least that’s what you tell yourself. You tell yourself that if

you’re submerged in the freezing waters of a body long enough,

the cold will start to hurt less than your mother’s absence.

When she’s gone, who will you turn to?


Nghiem Tran was born in Vietnam and raised in Kansas. His writing can be seen in the Indiana Review, where he received the 2015 1/2k Prize, Gulf Coast Online, The Offing, Nepantla, and elsewhere. He is a University Fellow in Syracuse’s MFA program, and a Kundiman Fellow.