Poets Against Sexual Violence: Fundraiser for RAINN (Part Five)

Donate to RAINN here.

Dear Friends,

As part of the lead up to this much-anticipated reading, I am posting a poem by one of the eight poets who is reading: by Paul Tran, a Vietnamese-American poet who is working on their first book. As per their website, “The manuscript examines intergenerational trauma, sexual violence, and U.S. empire after the Fall of Saigon in 1975.” Here, I am reposting “Testimony”, a horrific/beautiful poem that breaks the cultural silence that surrounds rape and sexual abuse, and makes space for others to speak. Here, you will notice the line “Only him. / Again // and again”. In this kind of extreme experience, the perpetrator attempts to fill the lense of being, trying to blot out the self of the victim. But poetry pushes back, and speaks. Although the poem describes that moment of victimhood, the poet moves past it, holding that kernel so as to better witness it for the liberation of others.



Testimony, by Paul Tran

I didn’t ask for it.
Something moved
in the tall grass.

Neither my imagination
nor the wind,
light rippling in the heat.

He had a human face.
But he wasn’t
human. He was

a hunger. Not for me —
for what he could do
to me: shepherd boy

alone in a field of thorns,
flock grazing
tufts of rhododendrons,

the world with its
back turned. He kissed me,
moved his wolf tongue

in and out
of my mouth, a hole
he filled with himself.

Disrobed, he tied
my underwear around my knees,
licked the bottom of my feet.

I didn’t like it.
I didn’t understand
what was happening.

When I said his name,
when I shouted what he was
at the top of my lungs —

a desire
for something
he couldn’t keep —

he dragged me by my hair
across the devil’s wilderness.
My back whittled

and threadbare. I wished
my scalp and skull had split,
spilled the contents

of my brain like rind
in a garden of unearthly delights
so I could be dead —

stay dead — and not chase
the impulse to testify
pulsing in my blood.

Cause and effect.
He planted me on a grove
overlooking my village.

He pushed his sex inside
me. The sky hid
behind gathering clouds,

too disgusted to look.
Perhaps it’s a gift
only to feel my body

taken from me.
Perhaps observation’s a lie.
No one believed me

anyway. No one came.
Only him.

and again,
until there was
nothing left.

(Originally published in The Offing, Trans Issue, 26th November, 2015.)

We’re proud to have Paul as part of the line up next Saturday (29th April at 7 p.m.) at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop. If you missed my previous post about my motivations for organising the reading, you can read it here. The post has all the information you will need to donate to RAINN (or go to the top of this post and click the link), and directions if you would like to come to the reading, which is at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on Saturday, 29th April at 7 p.m. We hope to see you there.