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Poetry Moment: Diana Khoi Nguyen and 'Family Ties'

Poet Diana Khoi Nguyen
Poet Diana Khoi Nguyen

Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.

Today’s poem is “Family Ties” by Diana Khoi Nguyen.

Poet and multimedia artist Diana Khoi Nguyen is the author of Ghost Of, from which today’s poem is drawn and which won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and Colorado Book Award. Nguyen has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, where she wrote some of the earliest poems which appear in Ghost Of. Nguyen is an Assistant Professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Ghost Of includes photographs and various graphic elements. The poems are often associative, as is true of today’s, “Family Ties.” The voice of the poem leaps from idea to idea, image to image, leaving the story and scene incompletely rendered. Nguyen’s formal choices powerfully reflect her attempt to address her brother’s suicide and her family’s inability to speak of it. The deer on the side of the road in today’s poem is a recurring image that cannot be fully read—in the same way Ngyuen’s brother cutting himself out of photographs the day before he died becomes a signifier for his absence, which cannot ever be fully accounted for.


Family Ties

Gradually a girl’s innocence itself becomes her major crime
A doe and her two fawns bent low in the sumac along the bank of the highway, the
      pinched peach of their ears twitching in the heat
Into the disordered evening my brother cut out only his face from every photograph in the
    hall, carefully slipping each frame back into position
What good does it do?
Decades of no faces other than our own chipping faces
What good does it do, this resemblance to nothing we know of the dollhouse
New parents watch their newborn resting in a sunny patch of an empty room,
    the newborn making sense of its container—
And from the road a deer ripened in death and a tuft of fur—or dandelion—tumbled
   along, gently circled, driftwood, shaking loose, gathered, dissolving into the mouths
  of jewelweed nearby
Earth is rife with iron and blood is rich in stardust
Immediately I spotted one hoof print, then nothing, as if this was where she dragged
  herself out of the body
Strips of tire torn from their orbit
I speak to you not about sex but about the game we call therapist
Is it right then, that we are left to hurtle alone

That was “Family Ties” by Diana Khoi Nguyen.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with us today.

Shara McCallum was the 2021-22 host of "Poetry Moment" on WPSU.
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