Multiples of 12

By Tina Do, English Alum

when mama was twelve
she grabbed my uncle Kim by the collar
as he was running outside to play

said it was too dangerous to join his friends
for their daily game of street ball
though the house shook from the resounding tantrum
the streets later trembled
rattling from the bombs that fell from the sky
fell –
like the tears down my uncle’s cheeks
when he stumbled across the body of a friend

sometimes I think mama took the war over with her
carries it in her bones like marrow
crack her body open and
her blood and tissues still bare the wounds
from running barefoot over shrapnel roads
strip away her flesh and you will see the war
sitting between her ribs, her lungs all gunpowder and smoke

a car backfires in the street, smoke billowing out behind
mama flinches, looks up to the sky in anticipation, mouth open to scream
pulls me by the collar so I don’t run off

at forty-eight her tongue is barbed wire across skin
dragging flesh with words the way
it snagged mama’s friends as they tried to run away
I am crying, raw from the pain
mama smiles gently - her teeth yellowed bullet casings
she whispers cẩn thận to me
thinking they’re balm and bandage
for the wounds she’s gouged into me

twenty-four and the house shakes
my sister and I locked in attrition,
tossing words and objects like projectiles
I wrench her by the collar so she cannot run off
đi chết đi, I scream

after, apologies as reparations
I look down at my hands in horror
wonder when it was
I started carrying violence in my bones
and barbed wire on my tongue.