Monday, April 23, 2012

Thanhha Lai - The Last Hen

The Last Hen
Thanhha Lai

Brother Vũ yanks
the last garden greens
and divides into five portions
the last scallion omelet.

He saves
one potato
one carrot
one onion
to make stew
from the last hen running.

The hen screams
when we enter her shed,
stabs us with her beak,
writhes as if being tickled
when Brother Vũ slices
a red line
across her throat.

All day Brother Khôi
has refused to come down
from the attic.

The blood pudding,
we eat right away.
The stew must simmer
all night.
for breakfast,
we chew and chew meat
that might as well
be rubber bands.

The hen
exercised plenty
during her life.

April 28

© Thanhha Lai. All rights reserved.

Thanhha Lai won the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature for her novel Inside Out & Back Again. It's a stunning book - a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story about a young girl, Hà, and her family who flee Vietnam and end up in Alabama, written in a series of prose-poems. If you've read the book, you'll recognize character names in the poem above, as this is a piece that was removed from Inside Out in one of the last passes through. As a writer, all I can think is "the stuff cut out is pitch perfect, too???" As a reader, I want more, and not simply because it re-acquaints me with characters I loved spending time with. Nope. I. Just. Want. More.

Somewhat amazingly to me, Thanhha Lai had not written poems like this before Inside Out & Back Again. Call me crazy (you won't be the first), but I'm thinking she's pretty good at 'em. The imagery, the relationships, the humor, and the emotional power in the poems in Inside Out all serve the story, never showing off, never bringing attention to themselves, and never, from my point of view at least, taking a wrong step. 

I hope she decides to try her hand at more, but I'm sure whatever's next will be well worth a read, no matter what form it comes to us in. I'm incredibly grateful to Thanhha Lai for sharing more of the world of Inside Out & Back Again with us here, and I'm really thrilled to have her here today as part of the fun at 30 Poets/30 Days.

Yesterday, we met A Kestrel Couple thanks to Robert L. Forbes. Tomorrow... Steve: A Cautionary Tale by Bruce Coville! For more on 30 Poets/30 Days and ways to follow along, please click here.


tanita✿davis said...

I've heard so many good things but haven't gotten my hands on this book yet...

I am now a bit more motivated!!

Linda B said...

It is a beautiful book, & I am excited to see one more poem about that time. I've used this book as a mentor text for using poetry as story-telling. I hope another book comes soon. Thanks Greg!

jama said...

This book is on my list and I can't wait to read it. Wonderful to see an "extra" poem from it.

Robyn Hood Black said...

On my list, too - thank you both for this insightful post.

Amy LV said...

Oh the poignancy of eating animals we know. Living on a bit of a pretend farm, I know this feeling. Beautiful poem, and this book is now on my list! Many thank yous to both of you. a.

Liz Brownlee said...

Wow, what a fabulous poem, what images... I love this.

Charles Waters said...

I love how this children's poem doesn't judge, it tells the truth and allows the reader to come up with their own opinion.