"at eleven"

phuong wake up, we’re going to america today
rain pounding on the tin roof
i am standing at the front door, waiting to leave
fury storm, water splashing into the house
next to me a glass case filled with cakes and candies.  it’s too high to reach
at my feet a row of new flip flops in plastic bags
what do you want?  mom asked
chewing gum, i answered
mom gave me several green packets.
the car arrived
i ran with mom, under her umbrella, to a light blue volkswagen bug
mom with the baby and us four kids squeezed into the back of the car
where’s dad? i asked
dad’s leaving separately, mom replied
i fell asleep not long after the car moved
the car stopped.  we arrived at the river.
a man came and lead us into a stilt house overhanging the river bank
we sat looking out at the swelling river awaiting for a boat
down below a couple armed lao military men passing by
relentless rain, silence, except for the sounds of water slapping against the leaves
minutes or hours went by, i don’t remember.
some people came leading us down to the bank
wet, slippery downhill we held on to each other
terrified of falling, i can’t swim.
we climbed into a swaying canoe, tipping back and forth
the water surrounds the rim of the boat.  i stick my hand into the water, mom yelled
crouching under an umbrella, we cut across the current toward thailand
how long on the water, i don’t remember.
slippery hill, someone pulled me up
water up to my knees, i am running behind mom
a flip flop pulled from my foot, sunken into the mud. i can’t find it
mom calling, hurrying me
dad came and pulled me along.

by phuong m. do

My home in Vientiane, Laos, revisited in 2008. It has since been demolished.

My home in Vientiane, Laos, revisited in 2008. It has since been demolished.