Taxonomy of Amnesia
I swear I’d trade my body to remember and instantly regret it.
Ma and Ba—children of sweat-glazed faces, too-short ribs. Their spines the bridges connecting no worlds.
Am I your son at all?
The answer a teethmark left on a just-ripened bomb.
Anywhere on earth my body will be hijacked by explosions, even in the world’s largest bunker.
Then, what am I even?
The answer a knife carving Ba’s naked torso into a mock warfare.
Guess there’s no turning back now.
No matter how hard I starve and dehydrate our past with a god-like precision, it’s never enough to keep amnesia at bay.
From this angle, the 1960s meals are binary: with rice or without rice; memory looks like a storm running through the length of me and escapes.
I need more than just wisdom teeth to understand nothing in the world would ever fall into place.
All months are April, closest to a broken heart.
That’s all I remember.
Mini-interview with Tam Nguyen
HFR: Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
TN: Ever since I realized there is a need to articulate myself as a human knowing nothing about life.
HFR: What are you reading?
TN: I’m currently grinding on V.S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival. It’s a ridiculously long read, but absolutely helped me out a lot during social-distancing when the privilege of getting to see and feel things is taken away.
I also occasionally revisit Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar and never stop being fascinated by how much the poet’s gradual acquisition of sanity resonates with mine. Every time I read the book, I discover something new.
Victoria Chang’s OBIT has been inside my backpack for the past two years. All I can say about the collection is how magical it is as both an anecdote and antidote to the act of grieving.
Xiao Yue Shan’s How Often I Have Chosen Love is absolutely something to devour over and over again.
HFR: Can you tell us what prompted “Taxonomy of Amnesia”?
TN: One typical thing about Vietnamese household, especially ones comprised of pre-1975 children, is how much our consciousness is preoccupied by wartime stories and lived-experience of poverty. The boundary between “to live” and “to be haunted” is thin.
I did not pay much attention to these narratives as a child until I began thinking critically about familial history and what it took for us to be under a roof, I realized these fragments of memory were trespassed in the most ruthless way possible, so much that they only distort whenever I try to summon them. It has been an excruciating psychological experience for me.
“Taxonomy of Amnesia” attempts to articulate this process of degradation and perhaps, the willingness to embrace ephemerality of taking a pilgrimage into my parents’, grandparents’ past and start making sense of them under the perspective of children at time of peace. It is almost a responsibility of some sort.
HFR: What’s next? What are you working on?
TN: First and foremost, I’m compiling a poetry chapbook, and am hoping to be able to place it somewhere next year. Secondly, I’m working on establishing a humble literary magazine based in HCMC, Vietnam, with my dear friend—curator-and-art-laborer Maria Sowter. We look forward to launching our first issue at the beginning of August, if nothing goes wrong, of course, since Vietnam is entering its biggest wave of COVID. As an art writer, I’m also contributing some articles to the 20-year anniversary anthology of Nhà Sàn—a vanguard space for generations of Vietnamese experimental artists since 1998—it’s been fun and mind-bending so far.
And finally, I’m hoping to not spend my third year as an undergraduate in cyberspace after this summer.
HFR: Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
TN: The world is contingently constructed. Stop telling each other something “just happens to be there.” Never stop reasoning for yourself and others. We’re always at the heart of revolution.
Tam Nguyen is a poet/art writer based in Ho Chi Minh City, born and raised on the south end of Vietnam. His works appeared and are forthcoming on Heavy Feather Review, SOFTBLOW, Overheard, Dryland, Road Runner Review, and elsewhere. Find him via Instagram @tamnguyenwrites.