NEA Literature Fellowships

Bryan Thao Worra

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(2009 - Poetry)

Khop Jai For Nothing, Farangs

The bomb popped in his face
While he was digging a fire pit

For his family squatting
On the old mercenary camp

In Xieng Khouang province
So notorious for its UXO.

"They live there for the American plumbing,"
Our host said flatly,
Watching volleyball games by the airstrip.

This was wholly routine.

The ruined grounds were frozen.
Explosives, dormant blooms below
Can be mistaken for ice and rock easily.

And he screamed

The whole time as we loaded
Him into the back of our rickety plane
To Vientiane that

Lao Aviation picked up from
The Russians when everyone

Thought the Cold War
Was going somewhere.

The California girl on holiday
Was aghast and found it

Quite unscenic.
What a pall on her search for highs.

In Wat Inpeng,
A monk named Souk

Confided discretely:
"We really hate hippies."

Bryan Thao Worra is the author of On the Other Side of the Eye (Sam's Dot, 2007), Winter Ink (Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 2008) and the chapbooks The Tuk Tuk Diaries: My Dinner with Cluster Bombs (Unarmed, 2003) and Touching Detonations (Sphinx House Press, 2003). His new collection, Barrow, will be published by Sam's Dot in 2009. He is an editor of Bakka Magazine, a Laotian literary arts journal, and a literary arts reporter for Asian American Press. He has received support from the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Loft Literary Center. He resides in the Midwest and maintains a blog at

Photo by Ed Lin

Author's Statement

In a lifetime of writing I see there is still so much left to say. I consider this fellowship not only a personal joy but a true community milestone. I gladly continue my work presenting the dreams of my fellow refugees and our contributions to the great American tapestry.

I have been fortunate in my life to meet so many whose lives were changed at the deepest level by my work. So I continue. I know how much difference even a single word, a single sentence can make in a life. My eye gratefully appraises a dizzying world of the expressed seeking to convey the inexpressible. And occasionally, a great poem comes out of all this. That's a poet's path. That is my path.

There are stories and poems I can't wait to share with you all in celebration of our journey together. Change is possible only through the free expression of the many voices of a diverse people. It is one of the true joys of life.

I thank the National Endowment for the Arts for their support of my writing and their commitment to encouraging dialogues celebrating the creative spirit. I hope scientists and politicians, preachers and the wise, our paupers and teachers, students and families can each realize in their own ways the deep artistry of the world and all creation.

In turn, I recognize those who gave so much around the world to bring us to this point. Some names we know, so many we do not. I thank those voices, those souls, and add my own to our collective story of freedom and dreamers.
And to those who come upon these words of mine: Write. Create. Add your voice to this magnificent tale.