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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.


Poetry Wife

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.

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