The Yellow Bucket

Christine Nguyen,  Stephen F. Austin State University

 

When I was little, my broken Vietnamese was “cute.”  Not anymore.
______________My grandparents say I am an apple that has fallen
too far from the tree.  They cry, what a pity I have sawed my roots
______________off for the American dream.  When I was five,

we took a vacation to Vietnam and stayed in my grandma’s house
______________of thirteen people and one toilet.  The day I desperately
needed its company was the day my dad decided to lock himself in the bite-
______________sized bathroom with three, thick books and no watch.

Forced to stand outside, I crossed my legs in confusion
______________until my aunt took pity.  She gave me a yellow bucket
and a corner of the kitchen to do my duty in shame.  In the midday
______________humidity, I sat on my golden throne, a red-faced imp, and shook

chunky fists and hissed hexes in Viet-glish at people who didn’t understand
______________little girls had dignity, too.   They thought my screeches
were adorable, rất dễ thương, like a duckling that squawks in shallow
______________waters because she cannot swim.  Now that my skin

has stretched to fit my twenty-year skeleton, my stuttering Vietnamese
______________croaks glued together with English fillers are no longer
“cute” — they are laughable.  I don’t know when I consciously
______________understood that Vietnamese is not my first language,

even though I was born Ngọc-Anh before Christine ever opened
______________her eyes.  These days, I smile briskly and say little
in Viet.  I gossip in soft, southern flavors to cover
______________my aunts’ and uncles’ accented drawls.  I no longer

tell my grandparents con không đói but rather I am not hungry.
______________And when I am told to greet the strangers
visiting from Vietnam, with their haughty eyes and muffled smirks,
______________I bow with American indignation, I snatch their tittering

mouths, I toss them out into that backyard, into that murky trench
where I had dumped the yellow bucket years before.


Christine Nguyen is a student working toward her BFA at Stephen F. Austin State University where she lives with her three opinionated cats. She has her work previously published in Humid and a forthcoming poem in Sundog Lit.