Author Study – Buffet Etiquette

Buffet Etiquette

Hieu Minh Nguyen


My mother and I don’t have dinner table conversations
out of courtesy. We don’t want to remind ourselves
of our accents. Her voice is Vietnamese lullaby
sung to an empty bed. The taste of her hometown
resting on the back of her teeth.

My voice is bleach. My voice has no history.
It is ringing of an empty picture frame.
The frequency of a TV turned off.


I am forgetting how to say the simple things
to my mother. The words that linger in my periphery.
It is the rear view mirror dangling from the wires.
I am only fluent in apologies.


Sometimes when I watch home movies.
I don’t even understand myself. My childhood
is a foreign film. All of my memories
have been dubbed in English.


My mother’s favorite televisions shows are all ‘90s sitcoms.
The ones that have laugh tracks. The prerecorded emotion
to queue her when to laugh.


In the first grade I mastered my own tongue. I cleaned
my speech, and during parent teacher conferences
my teacher was surprised my mother was Asian.
She just assumed I was adopted. She assumed
that this voice was the same one I started with.


As she holds a pair of chopsticks, a friend asks me
why I am using a fork. I tell her that a fork
is much easier. With her voice, the same
octave as my grandmother’s, she says
“but this is so much cooler.”


I have accepted the fact that I am no longer Vietnamese.
Just Asian. I am the clip-art, the poster boy of whitewash.
My skin has been burning easier these days. My voice box
is shrinking. I have rinsed it out too many times. My house
is a silent film. My house is infested with subtitles.


That’s all. That’s all.
I have nothing else to say.