The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

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JUNE 2022 Issue



On occasion from within the labyrinth: a stab, a peal, a punctuation mark of the loneliest kind of untrained
singing. Escapes.

It’s true: Nothing Ever Dies.

Although she claims herself one of those with “intellectual luxury” enough to read the whole book about the
Communist spy.

To name intellect as “luxury” means not everyone has it.

Luxury and/or intellect.

Also: that she abjects though also accepts, even expects, of others a chiefly emotional knowledge of the
subject matter.

Equation beneath abjection of a collective emotional body = four-plus decades x a world-education via

Living by feeling fades to a retrograde knowledge.

Next to an exponential capacity to conjure networks of openings and corridors behind which one may then minotaur: The heart.

Asian-woman-survivor tactic: buddhic-presenting smile beneath plastic visor (American tourist style).

What survives, inside a survivor?

In private though (I am sure of it) she slips bacon between the bars.

For there is an animal-child inside every one of us.

And/but: is triumph [the] [not] [the] caging of our animals inside? Which implies rather: a fear
at being incapable of taming anything.

But: once you learn to harness them, with your hands, they walk beside you. They might follow.

You learn the warmth of a mane brushing against your hip.

Sometimes they carry you.

This is a different kind of luxury entirely I think and it has no intellect.

Myths of round things that receive things.

Baskets and plates; bowls and wombs; other desirable cavities.

The cult of mother-reverence is, I believe, quite strategically linked to that of patriarchal dominance.

I am talking about a culture of pieties and deferences.

I am talking about the separation (alleged) between civility and the violence deemed necessary to civilize.

Myths about the tirelessnesses of selflessnesses.

Or that one about the wife who waits dutifully for so long she turns into a rock.

My mother was not a rock. Nor did she pine, nobly, with hair blowing in wind.

& I too: no rock-in-waiting.

Because sometimes you get this idea, due the shape of our eyes or the softness of our skins, that nothing roars

I am talking about fire & ice in the veins & about legacy & about the eradicating course of history.

I am talking about a millennium’s worth of violent self-undoings.

And: that long snake of waiting for one’s time—that feels like it may never come.

Women as flag-bearers, and how the light dapples and graces them.

In a cultural construct where men’s wills (and whims) dominate, how strategic is it to give the other party—
that one that might construe [construct] things differently—pleasing yet seemingly important roles?

And what could feel more pleasing than being placed in [a/the] position of beauty?

What more important than upholding virtue and timbre of allegiance for a whole circumscribed nation?

It’s the same sun, you know, for both North and South, on this side of the seas or that.

“Nationalism is a useless thing, a vile, destructive thing,” said the famous Scandinavian-American actor on a
BBC interview on the t.v. in the hotel room in Cambodia.

And I turned toward the t.v. then, surrendering (just a little), wishing a beautifully neutral white man really
could save me.

Truth is, I learned something once in the snow.

I had left the majority of my belongings in my mother’s house by the sea, to come north with four shirts, one
coat, no furniture, accompanied by my son, our cat, and the man I’d just married.

I learned that what the trees have to teach (and hence: nature’s lessons) can only be received, not given, not granted, and never, never thrust upon one.

And this is the kind of teaching the world had lost.

I could not heal my relationship with my actual mother and so I had resorted to standing in quiet glens in the
Alaska woods and letting snow fall into my hair instead.

(I was trying to heal the larger relationship. Or so I told myself.)

We were surrounded by the families of men on that road above the Gastineau Channel. The neighbors on
either side, both sides, Vietnam veterans.

You see how even in the far north I could not escape the repercussions of my birth-war : my war-birth.

My mother came to visit in the summer and we argued about Vietnam. Same arguments we’d been having for
years, sitting this time in hard plastic yellow seats in an Alaska ferry terminal.

Glacier meltwater reflecting cut-glass blue onto wide windows.

Let’s just say it’s complicated to critique war in the abstract to a war refugee.

What is the part of the story of South Vietnam, I ask her, that you feel has not yet been told?

There is fire in her eyes as she replies: We were fighting—for our freedom!

Moments like these I do not point out to her that it’s the same rhetoric on both, all, sides.

I cannot speak honestly with my mother about how I see language, nor about the vagaries surrounding a
word like “freedom”.

And so, often I don’t speak.

We walked in a small town Fourth of July parade.

Near the end of her visit my mother broke out in shingles on her arms.

On that visit I did not introduce her to our neighbors.

Mosquitoes are thick by the water in summertime in Alaska.

I think there is little hope for me.

Hopelessness being the only surefire way of living truly free: according to the Buddhist self-help book.

I was haunted by my own ten-year-old transition, you see. How around ten, eleven, I had derived a way of
handling my fear of living—my fear of hope, if you will—by writing a protection prayer in my diary.

It listed a multitude of possible catastrophes, accidents, methods of death that could occur to myself or family
members. And I recited this prayer, under my breath or mentally, each night before bed.

Methods of death included: murder by knife; by gun; by abduction, rape, dismemberment; accidental deaths
by fire, landslide, lightning strike; large trees falling on bodies as they slept.

I tried hard not to miss anything that was horrible and possible.

For I believed if I named it, if I could imagine it, it might not come to pass. Because life is meant to surprise—
to upheave and overturn—(people like) us.

So you must make the imagination very active.

You see: I had internalized the emotion of exodus.

Sometimes this is what happens in place of memory.

I do not remember being in my mother’s arms in the cargo hold of the airplane.

Psychology studies say that in order for an event to become embedded as memory, it needs an emotion

But I’m beginning to believe the real problematic lies in [our belief in] [absolution of] protection / intention of

And that: movement—an abrupt shifting of plates along an already delicate fault line—is a type of thing one
can go on attempting to replicate, over and over without knowing it, for far longer than any of us cares to


Postwar the decapitated head.
To climb up. Inside of. After.
The body of war. Is only natural.
Is only normal.
Pulling oneself up into a decapitated.
Head being one way.
To escape. An overly mired.
Life of the body.
Especially in times when what is being done to the bodies.
Is being done again and again.
Is impossible to be undone.
Is and has been too long. Beyond.
Our power.
To exit.
Mother, the books you wore.
To escape. The war you wore.
(French literature. Existentialism.)
I understand now: the quandary between solidaire ou solitaire
Was never just semantic.
It lived in you.
Hard to describe.
Benefaction of. Elevation into.
Tragi-comedic. Com-
Prehension. A survival.
I was born. In the.
Wake. Of.



Dao Strom

Dao Strom is an artist who works with three “voices”—written, sung, visual—to explore hybridity and the intersection of personal and collective histories. She is the author of the poetry-art collection, Instrument (Fonograf Editions, 2020), winner of the 2022 Oregon Book Award for Poetry, and its musical companion, Traveler’s Ode (Antiquated Future Records, 2020). Other works include a bilingual poetry-art book, You Will Always Be Someone From Somewhere Else (AJAR Press); a hybrid-form memoir, We Were Meant To Be a Gentle People, and song cycle, East/West; and two books of fiction, The Gentle Order of Girls and Boys and Grass Roof, Tin Roof. Born in Vietnam, Strom grew up in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California and lives in Portland, Oregon. She is co-founder/director of two collective art projects, She Who Has No Master(s), and De-Canon.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

All Issues