5 Poems by Para Vadhahong
Agamemnon and Clytemnestra in Bathwater
The clogged hull of his body
sits still, laden with ends.
I pour palmfuls of water over him,
watch as the veins in his neck
loosen into pink evening flush.
You went a long way to finally feel at peace,
I tease, slipping off my chiton.
In the bath, we soap each other’s hair,
matched at the knifepoint of domesticity.
Even before he left himself at Troy,
I don’t remember a day where my husband’s
skin did not shelter some kind of war.
My peace will give you strength,
he says, smiling, to kill me later.
No heaving fists, no trembling glares.
He is a god-cursed son, a rainless king,
a silver giant of mountainous grief.
He sees the end, knows I won’t allow
reprieve while the daughter he sacrificed
shivers in the shades of death alone.
And it is a gift, isn’t it, to dole my love
as justice, his last breath something
of rebirth. I didn’t marry a good man,
a favored man. You will choose tragedy
if you dare choose me, he warned once,
before folding my hand in defensive warmth
of his. Such curses didn’t scare me then,
and sitting in water as the night lulls on,
it would be easy enough to begin again.
But our time together trickles
to the source of this moment—
this kiss and this wound,
both of which I land on his neck.
In a grand house handed to you by your forefathers,
you write to life sonnets, silver heirlooms,
rugs marred by footsteps, antimacassars,
candlesticks grazing the tips of your fingers
where on your worst nights you believe the flames
would scale our walls, lay waste to our possessions.
It takes more than a burning to survive your world—
a mission of vengeance across the Wild West,
a brandishing of swords against the windmill,
a catalog of whales from the blue underbelly,
and even then your stories may not save me.
For all my ego, I never feel quite myself here—
too much fuss around metaphors, no
thank you: I’ll sing and smoke and dress myself
how I’ve always been, hair tangled and scraped
at the base of my neck, flannel loosely tucked.
Once, I did not understand how a woman
could ever outgrow poetry, her volta so simple
as a doorknob converting applause into silence
after the party. How I, in need of a written love,
needed the rules of belonging, a ring welded
from your word, my fate scratched onto a palm—
feel how lovely she is, how tender to the touch.
But you, leaving lipless letters on the dresser,
driving the cross-country miles to hold me again
in your sea-tossed arms and frayed white shirt,
how can I not want you in all your delicate,
crooked realities—to come alive by your hand,
even as I yearn for the end of your world.
After Dying, My Love Puts On My Armor
And wears the face of this city inside out
as he plunges my horses through the hinged jaw
of the gates. He emerges a ghost at the doorway
of every house, his ashes muddled under the iron
coating on my tongue. He has rehearsed me well,
my heartbeat a mounting staccato in his chest,
his exit wounds mapped across my torso,
my dactylics scribbled at the back of his throat.
In the role of a lifetime where the city is the stage,
my love bends heaven-ward to shoulder my name
through the spell of entrails, the riotous masses,
the rotting fruit and dull coins in dented carts,
the haggard women biding their time in alleyways,
pushing his bronzed figure—which bears my figure—
over footprints of crusted blood and seedy filth
until he comes across the prince of this city trudging
through the streets, himself a ghost at my hands.
They are storied by my borders, my love and
his killer, dragging rubble apart for their old faces.
The prince, in life a steadfast believer in laws and tenets,
suffers the hounds and eagles of the city. This war is no more
ours than his, and the hot bath his wife draws for him,
despite knowing he would not come home to cleanse
his heels, is the rigged surface on which my mother
pronounced me god. I wish to spit this truth into the mouth
of the city: the wingless divide between men and legends
depends on whether he surrenders or finds rest in water.
But no one here has an ear for listening, not even my love,
who has died in the style of one burnished in song,
even if he had to become me to do it. Still unburied,
he drops my helmet at the heart of town square
as his knees fail to crack the heat of pavement;
buries my spears in the mouths of gaping corpses
when he opens his own and nothing staggers out,
not even my voice. Beyond our boundaries of flesh,
I get to say: there is a bright room in our memories
where I’ve drawn you a bath, my love. But inside the city,
where his shade wields its search from waiting to haunting,
he only needs to look down at his hands to find me,
two wings torn under the cover of safekeeping.
Their Wedding After the War
This time, music. Fistfuls of notes blooming out
into the weeds. We trip over ourselves to stand,
scrubbed young again with springtime breath.
I take your sun-and-steel knuckles, rub scars
that ridge up the shield of your skin. Kiss them.
Somewhere out in the glory, cities are founded
and boys are storied as emperors. Past the clouds,
goddesses of night and dawn fumble with drapes
of their divine loneliness. Below our feet, the dead
keep watch for green in gray fields of asphodel.
This outcropping of light is no mere wedding gift,
so let it not be fate or debt that parts the veil.
There is simply: one man on plain bended knee
pledging his hearth for the home of your beauty,
speechless ever since he was chosen the first time.
And this time, no hordes of gleam-eyed kings,
no slicing discus, no father plotting an oath,
no brother tossing in my lot. Your name does not
resound wife, bleached and snipped and ironed
in the fabric of the gods. Yet I am eternal husband,
my love is hallowed by your touch. Those aging
pillars of the bride-bed, two oak frames, still hold on
as you race me to the sheets. I long for your pulse.
We move to unfasten—laces, sorries, forgiveness.
Though I had turned my hands into gnawed brutes,
you place them on your temples. In the days of before,
you’d carry me a story, girls reaching out for flowers
only to be earthed and raised right back into infamy.
Now there is inhale and exhale, that daily tide of returns.
I am no hero, Helen, I only want to be yours.
the ghost of the unaccompanied cello suite
after biting on tough gin and a mint leaf
you are in the mood for forgetful pilgrimage
the only sound in your apartment an uprising of strings
Yo-Yo Ma plucking away on the screen his smile
a half-crescent moon you are holding down your ear to
the uttermost phrase of grace fielding a checkup call
from your sister the one with three kids a geologist husband
a mortgage this raft of melody you swear is plain air a buried vein
but sweetheart i saw you heave on your bathrobe after the birthday
highball glass caved sides bleeding out your music sheets reddened
sore back erected in the makeshift stage of a wet balcony
notes of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major Courante
charming winter turning the past warm enough
for you to almost see me through that wall the wall of
splintered fanfare where I slipped on my jeweled heels
and satin opera gloves to attend tonight with no agenda
except to pretend my organs belong in your native skin
for this be the courante where your cello plays the lover
housed by your hips defended by your chin
roused to a most eloquent surrender embrace i can’t divine
rough to the touch threshed in retreat as i am
that only if you heed the vibrato of the very drunk
you will find my ankles glistening for your fingers
Para Vadhahong is a Thai American poet. Their writing is featured or forthcoming in Brain Mill Press, Kingdoms in the Wild, Hyacinth Review, and Cargoes and Gravel magazines at Hollins University.