Friday, July 5, 2013

Soul Vang

The Hmong have a phrase, hais cuaj txub kaum txub, which means “to speak of all kinds of things.” It is often used at the beginning of an oral narrative as a way of reminding the listeners that the world is full of things that may not seem to be connected but actually are; that no event occurs in isolation; that you can miss a lot by sticking to the point.
~Anne Fadiman

Kumquat Tree by Rasmus Lerdorf

Sharing two works by Hmong American poet and professor Soul Vang today. Thank you, Soul, for giving me permission!

Learning to Eat the Kumquat
by Soul Vang

I planted the tree out of curiosity
the year we moved to this new house,
two years after our older son was born
with frontal cortex injury, one year
before our second son was diagnosed
with autism spectrum disorder.

I first planted it in the shade
under the grape arbor, then transplanted it
the next year to the far side of the yard,
where each year it has grown more bushy
and bore more and more of its brilliant yellow
pearls that we would try to eat-- peeling
the orange skin, eating the acid pulp.

Each time we would spit it out in sour
perplexity--how could anyone eat
of such a fruit? It wasn't until this year
that we learned to properly eat the fruit
from some wise friends who came to visit.

You see, the way to eat the kumquat
is to pick it off the tree, rinse it
in clear water, roll the fruit gently
between thumb and index finger
to mix the sweet and the bitter juices,
pop it in the mouth and bite through peel
and pulp, swallowing the whole.


Against Traffic
by Soul Vang

Running in the bike lane
against traffic,
three miles done, two
to go. My lungs labor
to take in the oxygen
tainted by cars
brushing by within a foot.
It would be so easy
to stop--just one step
to the right. But
then I am distracted
by a bunch of low-hanging grapes,
that had escaped picking
machines and human hands,
living on into winter,
refusing raisinhood.


How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology, which includes work by Soul Vang.

Keri has our Poetry Friday round-up today.

You can find my "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Emma" at Reflections on the Teche.


Keri said...

These poems conjured images, scents and tastes, as well as a bit of heartache. The context of the first poem helps the final lines pack a punch. Thank you for sharing, Tabatha!

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

These are lovely, Tabatha. I especially liked the second one with the determination of the runner and also grapes "refusing raisinhood."

Liz Steinglass said...

Thanks for sharing. They are lovely and heartbreaking. I really love the quote above and the idea that things are connected and that we miss things by sticking to the point.

Tara @ A Teaching Life said...

So glad that you shared that beginning bit, Tabatha, “to speak of all kinds of things.” It put both poems into powerful context for me - especially the first one.

Linda B said...

Your quote by Anne Fadiman reminded me of her book about the Hmong, The Spirit Catches You And We All Fall Down-a heart-breaking reminder of how different we all are and yet connected in our anguish about our children. This first poem of course shows that too, 'to mix the sweet and the bitter juices'. Thanks Tabatha. Both poems teach us, don't they?

Ruth said...

I love these! Thanks for sharing them! I have Anne Fadiman's book, the one Linda mentioned, but haven't read it yet. Looks like I should put it closer to the top of my pile!

Margaret Simon said...

What a lovely combination of wisdom and the senses! A new poet for me to learn about and enjoy.

Margaret Simon said...

I went to the link to Soul Vang's blog. I got washed up into his life, his words. Wow! Where did you discover him? Does he have a book? Through the tears, I feel a connection with his spirit.

Mary Lee said...

"to mix the sweet and the bitter juices,"

So true, that we must take life WHOLE, and not assume we can just pick out the sweet parts.

Tabatha said...

Thanks for the comments, all! Yes, Mary Lee, I think you hit it right on the head. The only book I know of, Margaret, is "How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology." So glad Soul struck a chord with you.

Carol said...

Came over to your blog to find two fruit poems. Wow-- these are gorgeous. I love the kumquat one- need to print it out and read it once a day, before I try to deal with my teenagers. I don't know Soul Vang's work at all, but you have definitely made me want to read more. Thanks so much!

Soul Vang said...

Thank you, Tabatha, for sharing my work. What a wonderful home you have here, full of poetry, art, music, and friendships.

I am inspired by all the kind comments to keep writing, to dig deeper, to share more. Poetry is a soul food. I am sustained by all the poems I read. And I'm so happy to pass it on, especially at a place like this.

In friendship and poetry,