The Water in the Water

or: When I Asked a Vietnamese-Czech Woman How Much For a Bag of Vinamit, She Asked Me a Question I Could Not Answer

What I really wanted to ask you was,

How do you live here? In the cold,

the bitter winds, the crushing homogeneity

of this landlocked mass of landlocked

people? Do you miss home—& where is that?

What do you eat; what do you

drink? Is every apple here edged

with the taste of metal, sharp & anathema

to body—or is that simply my own tongue

betraying me?

Do you dream at night of jungle,

of limestone cliff? If nước is water & also

country, from which well did you draw

to survive in this waterless country?

Did you struggle; did you struggle long enough

for people to start calling it beautiful?

Am I wrong in assuming you struggled at all?

What I mean is, can you also see the water

in the water? If so, would you say you are

like me? What I mean is, am I of a whole?


Johanna Dong is currently studying economics at New York University, though she was born and raised in Southern California. Her prose has appeared in The Rumpus, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Margins, TRACK//FOUR Journal, The Jellyfish Review, and The Southeast Review; one of her short stories has been nominated for a Pushcart and Best of the Net.