Do Nguyen Mai’s debut collection stuns with stabbing diction and fluid conversation. There is a softness to her sounds, but a violence to her verbs. A sense of anxious rushing fills each piece not because of its pacing, but because of the extremes with which Do paints life, love, and being. It is all or nothing, every last drop in space.

“I cannot live in a world of
suffocation; you cannot live
in a world of restraint”

There is a mouth thick with sadness reciting these poems. Substantial history (based largely in Vietnam) bolsters the strength of the language. What is already beauty is also truth. It is a thing that hurts.

“But where we meet is empty space. Where we touch
is where we part. Even in our closeness there is distance. Even
in our comfort there is yearning.”

This is a poet who asks you what makes you up, whose memories, whose history, whose truth.

This is a poet who will see your answers whether you want her to or not. Click To TweetSo detailed is her grip on truth that it is hard not to want to see hers in its fullness.

“I have only one tongue that has tried to pry itself, cut itself,
slash itself in four, and the blood from the gashes still pours
from my mouth every time I part my lips to speak, staining
everything in view.”

Here, everything is connected. Concepts of newness are torn and crumpled to make space for what links us not just to each other, but to those passed. Not even is the focus limited to ancestors, here; where were we birthed? What was our birth? What places have we left behind, and where do we long to return? The earth is alive and torturing the sky and the seas, and it is us, these torturers, who must re-consider our place in the world.

You can buy a copy of “Ghosts Still Walking” from Platypus Press.