Stacey Tran



you open the door

we finally leave town

oranges roll around in the backseat

oranges roll onto the linoleum

this wasn’t meant to be an homage to the person I lost at the mall

and maybe it still isn’t

I’m the kid who sat too long in the massage chair at Brookstone

and there is only one man who showed me how to fall in love with hardware


a place where you texted me a selfie and I replied with a picture of a fire


I’m underdressed when I visit you at work

we nervously add coins to the parking meter

we are encouraged to pick out paint swatches and dream about walls we’ll never


we never learn how to fix or build anything

not even how to hang a plant from a ceiling

I try to surround you with the smell of a lumber yard and car grease

I try to kiss you like someone fixing a truck while the grass gets cut

obviously it is summer

I spin around so fast in the electronics department I accidentally hug a man who

isn’t my dad

how could I mistake a stranger for the person who taught me to use a computer?

in dreams, a pixelated avatar of Vanna White walks across the stage revealing

letters one by one

Vanna White’s birthday is a day before my mom’s birthday in the year my dad

was born

at a young age I discovered a soft spot for unicode font

I’ve been longing for the idea that a single typeface would satisfy the needs of all

semantic ambiguity

I owe processing and using and misusing language to the man who met my mom

at a refugee camp in Malaysia

where he taught basic English to Vietnamese refugees like himself

where he’d climb a mountain to pick orchid bulbs for her

where she made money securing the buttons on other men’s shirts

and there’s a photo of her smiling

she’s cutting the head off a catfish to make soup for everyone

she was surviving

lighting a candle

a stick of incense burning

held up in the dark in a bowl of rice

I guess that’s one way

we all disintegrate in this physical situation

I left home

then blindness

there is nothing in the beautiful room

I let the field next door fall in front of me

my uncle asked me two things

1) to kiss the island shaped birthmark on his cheek

2) if I think about things in one language or another

birds leave their nests on top of parked cargo trains on the waterfront

I know where I come from

I’ve made a list of herbs I want you to taste

I refer to them in my mind in another language

there are ways to describe depth of color also in that language

it would take fewer words

it would last longer

the word for ‘green’ and ‘blue’ are the same

it is the same word meaning ‘giving birth’ or ‘not quite ripe’

I think of the ocean

vivid with you in it

the future is a piece of cloth I lay down on

and cut up

and sew together

and in there sometimes somewhere

somehow my soul inserts a pale gray

a raw throw of certain color combinations

that could make me come

you too?

is this what we look for when we go to the Rothko chapel

or the Turrell skyspace?

or outer space?

or just plain space?

I said I think it is a landscape, too

I go to the pink salt sauna and hope you have found your equivalent rest

I think you are blue

I think you are crying

I think you are a woven basket

I read you the poem about swimming and god

my insides vibrate so big the waves crash out onto the ground

before language was a violin hanging on the wall

a metronome on the dresser

moving images from one shelf in the fridge to another shelf in the fridge

a cold metal slide

soup that was too hot to eat

steamed peanuts on new year’s eve

someone knocks

the risk of injury

I run and fall into a vent blowing hot air

clinging on to the idea of adults as safety

clinging on to a backyard pond with koi fish as a marker of success

Tiffany’s parents keep their grass nice in the summer

the carpet in her house is white and the pillows feel new

like the kiddie pool in Marissa’s front yard where I first saw another girl take her

top off

we played Olly Olly Oxen Free until the stars froze in the heat

growing up my mom never had an ice box

her childhood friend had a refrigerator and an oven

while they waited for the pound cake to rise they would suck on ice cubes

hunger was always a theme at the dinner table

we were given fruit names as nicknames

watched women roll hot coconut candy on their legs

I am here now

I make eggs and think about employment and how saying goodbye to a lover is a

labor of removing the papery skin of a garlic clove

I want to protect my friends and the language they make mistakes with

I add salt to the pan of hot oil to quell our fears

so nobody’s wife sees the roses in our teeth

I stand in the kitchen crying while sautéing bitter greens which I eat to feel


when your eyes close up at night

you continue to travel

I can stay in Los Angeles to become an aesthetician

I can speak another language fluently but in that language there is only one way

to talk about gender

I found a place where people talk about tv without shame

and put money into jukeboxes

and listen to plants hooked up to cables and wires hooked up to a computer

and we are together in a quiet part of a clean street in Chinatown

and I think I love wearing tshirts here

where the dive bars are just dive bars

in the morning we eat bananas and buckwheat honey

in another language we talk about disease, illness, sex ed, organ failure, music

a wish fell down inside my shirt

but I’m not trying to be exact

at the coffee shop I despise people who take the whole jar of honey to their table

above all this the moon clips its nails

the beauty of poetry is we decide what it means

after the breakup I bought a plant that costs more than a week’s worth of


it died

my dad would read tabloid headlines out loud to me at the drugstore

he would take me to the barbershop where I read National Geographic

where the barber offered me Nilla wafers and DumDum lollipops

my favorite flavor was the mystery flavor with question marks printed on the


life’s too short to pretend you are too important for pop music

how to use chopsticks was a lesson of how to pick up a marble

I was taking nail clippers to my eyelashes

my aunt clipped her infant’s eyelashes while she was asleep

because they’ll grow back even longer, she said

there are types of marbles containing the deep blue sea

the blue moon

a green ghost

a brass bottle

a tinted crystal

stars in the sky

domesticated and wild animals

or even all the colors

in the army they grew their own rice and ate it with nothing

have you ever looked at something and imagined what it tastes like as a way to


my aunt cleaned her restaurant with a cheap plastic bottle of holy water

the front door, all the chairs, the parking lot

what was she feeling for?

in the room

in the dark

what do you see inside your eyelids while you are asleep in a dream?

please do not brush your hair in the restaurant

please do not wear red to work

please do not carry a pocket mirror

do not eat certain things if you want to bear a son

when my mom was pregnant with me she drank tomato juice

she had one vivid hankering for venison, which she’d never eaten before and to

this day never has

how do you know you want something you’ve never tasted?

I swallowed you once

I licked my fingers

I was not disappointed

a red thread sewn through my teeth to mark my word


Stacey Tran is a writer and artist living in Portland, OR. www.staceytran.com