NEA Literature Fellowships

Hieu Minh Nguyen

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(2017 - Poetry)

from "White Boy Time Machine"


It's not bad luck to name your goldfish
after the goldfish that has already died

right? It seems impossible, on days like this
to walk to work & not daydream

of ways to make eye-contact
with people wearing sunglasses.

It usually involves tripping or love.
My mother never told me the no glove rule

just hung photographs of dead relatives
in the living room & photos of herself

in my bedroom. One day, if I'm lucky
enough to outlive my mother, I will pick the photo

of her with the perm—she fears this the most—
that & having a son ruined by want

by the endless limbs of other sons.
My mother never told me about the first boy

I was named after—just said he died
in a desert, just said he lost his way.

She flushed my old body down the toilet
then took my photo off the wall.

(previously published in The Paris-American)

Hieu Minh Nguyen is the son of immigrants. He published his first collection of poetry, This Way to the Sugar, with Write Bloody Publishing in 2014. This Way to the Sugar was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards, and the 2015 Lambda Literary Award in Gay Poetry. His second collection of poetry, Not Here, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press in 2018. Hieu received the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s Summer Residency, along with fellowships from Kundiman, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Miami Writers’ Institute. A poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine, Hieu is currently an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College, and an instructor at Indiana University’s Slam Camp, a summer poetry intensive for high schoolers. He lives in Minneapolis.

Photo courtesy Hieu Minh Nguyen

Author's Statement

When I was really young, I told my mother, an immigrant from Vietnam, that when I grew up I wanted to be a doctor. Terrible mistake. You can imagine her disappointment since. Despite being a writer, I still don’t have the language to describe to my mother, who speaks very little English, what I do with my life. The closest I’ve been able to get, is telling her that I am part of a choir, which is ridiculous, because I have an awful singing voice, and she knows that.

I was lucky enough to discover my interest for poetry at a young age, but because of this, I was an awful student. All I cared about was writing poetry. So after barely graduating high school, I abstained from attending undergrad, and instead, pursued my study in poetry independently. I have worked many odd jobs while trying to sustain my life as a writer. I’ve been a dancing pizza mascot, a delivery boy, a barista in a psychiatric unit, and a haberdasher.

When I received the call from the NEA, I was actually taking a nap so I didn’t answer. It still feels a little unreal. Maybe I am still in my post-nap haze. As a poet who has chosen an untraditional path through poetry, receiving this fellowship, and being listed among friends and heroes, means a great deal. It is incredibly affirming. The fellowship will allow me to grant myself a work release as I continue my study, and obsession of poetry. Or, if it’s not too late, medical school.