Jenna LE


To me, who grew up in the 1980s,
the 1980s were a foreign planet.
Besides the sounds of vacuuming that daily
sent angry tremors through our walls, volcanic
shudders that nudged my cagey nerves to panic
(I sensed the wrath their rattling indicated),
the soundtrack of my youth was pomegranate-
strange: a fruitcake dateless and outdated.

Driving me to and from my math team practice,
Dad played cassette tapes featuring the voices
of ’60s Saigon divas, the twittering accents
of Thái Thanh and Khánh Ly, the lung-full noises
of bosomy laments for soldier boys
sent off to war, to butcher and be hacked at,
and odes for stout-waist matriarchs who hoisted
sick infants on their backs, dry-cheeked as cactus.

Mom’s music tastes were more diverse: LPs
of old-time country singers, Emmylou
and Crystal Gayle; ABBA, the seventies’
brash, beach-blond Bobbsey twins; the ingenues
of France’s yé-yé period, who crooned
American pop hits rendered awkwardly
in French as if they owned those borrowed tunes,
big-haired Sylvie Vartan and Françoise Hardy.

We watched few movies, and the few we did
were Taiwanese, dubbed in Vietnamese:
mixed-race Fei Xiang in polo shirt amid
his stringy bandmates, strumming to appease
his wayward lover Idy Chan; or, seized
by girlish mischievousness, Brigitte Lin
slinkily sneaking up behind Han Chin
to shove him off his rock into the reeds.

Then, too, the hokey choreography
of Paris by Night, undying vaudeville show
adored by every Viet war refugee
though no one non-Viet ever seems to know
what we are blabbering about when we
effuse about the costumes, the marquees,
the saucy grins of singers Tommy Ngô
and Lynda Trang Đài (who, these days, sells pho).

Jenna Le is the author of Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011) and A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2018; 1st ed. pub. by Anchor & Plume, 2016), which won 2nd Place in the 2017 Elgin Awards. In 2019, she was selected by Marilyn Nelson as the winner of Poetry By The Sea's inaugural sonnet competition. Her poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, translations, and visual art appear in Denver Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. She lives and works as a physician and educator in New Hampshire.