Jade Hidle is the proud daughter of a Vietnamese refugee, and a first-generation American, college graduate, and professor. Her book, The Return to Viet Nam, was published by Transcurrent Press in 2016, and her work has also been featured in The Columbia Journal, New Delta Review, Word River, Spot Literary Magazine, The Ethnic Studies Review, the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network’s diacritics.org, the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s series, "Memory Transferred."
Photo Tankas 2
After my grandmother dies, I help my aunts and uncles clean out her house. The wall and ceiling above her altar is stained with incense smoke from her prayers to pictures of people she knew and some that she didn’t. The latter were the ones she was not letting rest. She prayed to them asking for winning hands at the casino, for vengeance, for longer life. With her gone, they hovered. They were the heaviness in the air, the weight and tingle on my neck and shoulders. While I was in her house rifling through trash and bags of pills, they cracked a wooden cabinet in half, knocked the pictures of Buddha and Jesus off their nails, and sent the dogs whimpering right back over the threshold. I hurried and mumbled prayers to keep them away as I dug through the closet.
I found boxes of pictures and remembered my grandmother clicking in new flash bulbs into her camera. She wanted a picture of everyone. Some photos were bound face-to-face in twine or wrapped in singed foil. But every picture of my mother was untouched, unlike what she’d thought. She’d assumed ba ngoai had been casting curses on her for years, blamed everything on it. But here were pictures from my mother’s life before me--no black magic, just memories and secrets:
My ba ngoai supine, Sad woman and boy
Child-mom’s naked splash in waves Who could be my uncle’s twin.
On Nha Trang’s smooth shore. Mom shushes me, “No!”
She does or doesn’t notice Grandpa’s bastard, no secret.
White men watching, their eyes blurred. Glad but guilty he chose us.
Viet Air Force pilot Tall, lanky muscle
Staring into horizon Bowl cut and basketball shorts
Cap tilts, medals wink. Another dead uncle?
He beat mom’s “elephant” face. “Your mom thought he was your dad,”
Nose jobs remember self-hate. Uncle says. I keep this one.
Old West studio The first in color,
Sepia toned, she poses, My mom peeks from behind bangs
Ruffled Southern belle. Hibiscus in hair.
Like Bonanza or Little House, Hawaii made her look happy,
Surviving in a new world. And she’s never taken me.
These black and white memories are mine now. I bought an album for them but struggled to arrange which faces side by side. Anyway, I didn’t know who I’d show them to. So I keep them in a box too, far away from the altar, far from where I’d ask for any answers.