Forthcoming in Vestiges_03: Mimesis

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The eloquent lungs of us twins are piled

upon one another. Mother, your

concealed nipples are the tents that the

feet of our existence step on.


I hope our breathing doesn’t temporarily

upset your evening inside the tumescent

hide. This oblivion. This sublime maternal

gesture. Coming from you.


Mother, are you warm beneath the animal

hide? Does it nurture your lungs and keep

them from the cold and sunlight?


The cane lies next to you like a stiff

husband. He is not our father, is he? Do

not forget, Mother, the recurring motif of

our neonatal breath blowing on the

crippled twilight of your neck.


The father of civilization hasn’t bothered

to clothe us. The earth lives without

statues, figurines, pantheons, and archaic



Mother, isn’t the night breathless? We

love being snowed into your embrace. We

love the amphitheater of your chest. Our

heads are diminutive gladiators vying for

your tenderness and beastly lullaby.


The gods do not distinguish nature from

nature, biology from science, and you

haven’t distinguished my brother from

me. You hold us with fastened ardor.


We know that farther below us the hide is

pregnant with your feet and something

else we do not have a name for.


Sometimes, in the darkest hours of our

breaths, I was led to believe that it was

our father’s bloated dead body. When we

do not know what it is, our imagination

runs wild.


It’s lovely to lie on top of my brother’s

young, soft flesh. I hope I am not

crushing his fragile lungs and bones. But I

trust you know the scales of our existence

and I trust that you know how to balance

our breaths and draw the symmetries of

my brother’s body and my body to meet

the shoreline of yours.


Is this how things will be forever? My

brother’s skin is so soft. Sometimes I

forget that I am not a morning glory

pressed against another morning glory.

It’s just that my skin and his skin are such

amicable neighbors.


I cannot see, with your back turned away

from the dusk, if it’s morning-to-be or

night. It doesn’t matter, really, the passage

of time.

DAWN, 1990

They made us pull our pants down,

stretch our legs and feet, and lift up our



Five clouds wiggle like white caterpillars

that have been recently promoted to



We saw one leaf dying in the strong rain,

battered by the wind, and we didn’t stop

to eat it. We let it live.


We are famous for our ability to fuck on a

string. Sexual funambulists, they call us.

The women usually fall off when we try

to fuck them. But we let them fall anyway.


How could we save them if they don’t

have legs that move like a swinging



[NOTE: These poems are ekphrastic studies of the figurative paintings of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum, from the time period of 1983–2005.]


Vi Khi Nao was born in Long Khánh, Vietnam. She is the author, most recently, of the forthcoming story collection A Brief Alphabet of Torture, which won FC2’s Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize in 2016, the novel Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016), and the poetry collection The Old Philosopher, which won the Nightboat Books Prize for Poetry in 2014. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Brown University, where she received the John Hawkes and Feldman Prizes in fiction and the Kim Ann Arstark Memorial Award in poetry.

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