Poem: ‘Take to the Days a Fist of Starlight’

Poet Mai Der Vang reflects on ancestral grieving and healing.

night time sky

During and within this moment of the pandemic, I’ve been thinking about the labor involved in the act of healing, and how it can happen at an ancestral level, reaching back in other directions of time. I’ve wondered, how much of what we’re going through is forcing us to confront the collective grief of our humanity? As a Hmong American poet, I want to believe that even in our past, present, and ongoing days of uncertainty, there is potential for us to find new ways of thinking, seeing, and loving. We owe it to our ancestors and this Earth.

Forward and forging within, I learn to fall singular,
merge the fullness of every flame

       after posthumous flame,

ever submerged by a world so ample
in its need to be emptied,

       so abundant in all of its absence.

These the affairs of a vacant life and all that comes
with a debt of mobility,

       censoring of grief in small rooms.

I am blown into a forced healing, no longer
braced to withstand combustion of a cure.

Call it Saturn conjunct with Pluto.
Call it mandated age in this Earth’s lineage.

       I fight the urge to be zeroed,
stay friend and mother to myself.

Reach for the time to rebuild,
      I take less from knowing

and more to meld from these days
a new theology for love,

a personal cathedral, songs of our shared scarcity.

It may be that we are stolen of each other,
only then do we seek ourselves.

Only then a fortune for the wild
returning to its virginity,

       sincere and green
of what the soil will bequeath.•

This poem appears in the Winter 2022 issue of Alta Journal.

Mai Der Vang is the author of Yellow Rain and Afterland, which received the 2016 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, was long-listed for the 2017 National Book Award for Poetry, and was named a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award.
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