At the Vietnam Center and Archive

Lubbock, Texas

Between 1985-1987, he writes sincerely, gratefully
to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 
the International Red Cross Central Tracing Agency,
Thai National Police, U.S. Department of State, and more,
to no real end, though each letter surpasses the last.
First he writes them in long hand, in Vietnamese,
then I think someone helps revise, translate, and type:
Don’t say the boat was stopped or encircled,
say the boat was surrounded by the Thai pirates;
it’s true they took away with them eight girls in our boat,
but abducted captures the situation better; say…—
“The Reading Room will be closing in 15 minutes.”
I sit and stare at the rust print left by a paperclip
coiling into the dead end of a labyrinth.
I’m reading the letters of Mr. Nguyen Van The
concerning the disappearance of his granddaughter,
Dinh Thuy Trang, when she escaped by boat…
In the blue of his sentences a boat leaves Vietnam,
on October 24, 1985, ventures into the South China Sea,
and drifts dangerously along the coast of Thailand. 
I can just make out the boat, a small open “v”,
drawing its wake pattern, on the sea, in the letters.
Around 9 A.M. of 26 October, the boat was surrounded
by 5 fishing boats belonging to the Thai fishermen.
I recoil at the actions his apt verbs dramatize—
invaded, searched, ransacked, pried, looked, seized:
I see teeth flashing inside mouths like knives.
No trace of Thuy. She’s gone…

Hai-Dang Phan, "At the Vietnam Center and Archive." Copyright © 2017 by Hai-Dang Phan. Used by permission of the author for PoetryNow, a partnership between the Poetry Foundation and the WFMT Radio Network.
Source: PoetryNow (2017)