10.5 / September & October 2015

Three Poems


If I drop napalm
on an ant hill, of course
they’ll scatter. Some will die.
Of course people look
like ants from above.
Of course my parents
want to be buried
in their home country.
I am not my parents.
I do not want to return.
I was born a little Catholic,
circumcised in a hospital
with the word Saint in it,
the other details of my birth
remnants of colonization:
white hands wiping blood
from my skin, snipping
the foreskin from my dick,
lucky I couldn’t talk back.
And maybe one of the doctors
said a quick prayer
in my name, called me Baby
because he couldn’t pronounce
the name my parents scrawled
onto the piece of paper.
Maybe I’m obligated
to think of Jesus
from time to time.
This is a lot to ask of me.
I think about Vietnam
from time to time.
I hope that’s the same
thing—that on the third day,
it, too, will rise, the foxholes
on its hands no longer bloody.
I like to think of my hands
as clean. I like to think
I owe nothing to the land.

Marlboro Theory

If I smoke one,
then I will smoke
two, and if I smoke
too many, I will
find myself
addicted to way
the fire hugs
my lips, how
it doesn’t
actually touch.
This is construction
in the modern age.
All the bad shit
I shove
into my body
turns into bad
memories, poems
about my chain
smoking father,
how each time
he stepped out
I learned
something new
about myself.
Like my talent
for routines,
my ability
to adjust expectations.
The Fermi Paradox
wonders where
the hell everybody
went. Billions
of potential planets
and not a single
sign of alien contact.
In a parallel world,
my father understands
what I mean
when I say I love
my mother’s cigarette
sensibility, the way
she burns through
each day a few inches
at a time, infinity
and parallels and space
just concepts
that keep men
a little busy,
the universe just
one big-ass cigarette
with no lung
big enough to puff
it down, infinitely
unable to contain itself
like it’s always crying
over not knowing
its parents. Maybe
they’re chain smokers.
Maybe it’s a really long
chain. Maybe every time
I step outside,
it becomes a little
harder to go back in.

God Theory

The big G
stands for gravity.
It is the main thing
preventing me
from taking flight,
a wingless angel,
no halo, no bullshit
about purity or goodness
or Godness. There isn’t
a single creature
who doesn’t need
to touch the ground,
and what is God
but a creature, sentient
and asking to be loved,
asking for faith in all
the things that can’t be seen
about Him, which is everything,
which is a whole lot
of trust I don’t have
even in myself.
Maybe this whole time
we’ve been looking for God
in the wrong places.
Maybe the Earth is the beast’s
mouth and God is the beast.
Maybe we spend our lives
on the fringe of being
swallowed. I confess
I have never prayed.
I think God is how people
make sense of life
and death, that there must
be someone who understands
it all. That we don’t just
close our eyes and disappear.
It’s like going to sleep
and waking up every day
to find the people around you
slowly dying. Life as a series
of extinctions. I will say this
once. I do not believe in God.
My life is not so insignificant.
If I jump right now,
the big G will bring me back
down. If I pilot a plane,
I will come down once
the fuel burns. If I grow
wings, they will tire.
If I shout to the sky,
I will run out of breath.
I will lose my voice.
If I say God, I mean
there’s a part of me
that wants someone
to tell me everything is okay.
That I don’t owe it anybody
to be anything more
than me. That I’m tethered
to the ground like everyone
else. That the sky isn’t filled
by some big idea, some God
who knows me better than me.

Kien Lam is a recent graduate of the Indiana University MFA program. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Pleiades, Salt Hill, and Gulf Coast. He spends most of his time awake, but maybe this is all just a dream and you're all figments of his imagination.
10.5 / September & October 2015