Three Poems

by Kien Lam

“Real Characters, What a Pair” by  Allen Forrest

“Real Characters, What a Pair” by Allen Forrest


Turn Around and Look at the Wild DoG

My friend after he put his dog to sleep
looked like he had just woken up
from seeing his dog sweat for the first time—
not from her tongue, but from an imagined
version of her body that is slightly less dog
and more human. The kind of wetness
that makes the Earth blue. And makes the sky
float. The kind of rain that comforts me
the most—these minute moments
that I understand I am not just wasting my time
alive. There is nothing to say that will comfort
someone who has lost their dog. Not in the way
they want. The dead only rise in the scriptures,
and even then, only once ever. Even with two lives
I should expect to find the same ending again.
It is, I hope, a place with ghost dogs and ghost
people. In a big ghost field with some ghost
trees and some ghost songs sung in some ghost
language. All the ghostly goodness it can host.
In truth I was afraid of dogs for most of my childhood.
It was difficult to not imagine the worst
with the teeth. The dripping saliva. It took some time
to convince myself domestication was long-ago completed.
Dogs are not animals, but dogs. Or not dogs,
but little gods. It is a type of worshipping
to just live. Each day I perspire a bit of my body
to the sky, and it returns me somewhere
else. Like this I have been practicing
how to leave this world my entire life.
Like this I let my tongue hang from my mouth
as some feral sound takes its leave.

Or JAmes

who ordained the holy translation
of the Bible.

Or me, little rebel—having worshipped
lesser things than God
at the grocery store
where my father asked me

to translate the English.

He seemed to shrink
in those moments, even
for exchanges so innocuous

I can only remember
the shift in focus
to me—little child—how I guided

those sounds to another sound
the way a bird grinds an insect

into mush before offering it
to its children, their tiny beaks
asking for more.

Such are the things

I worship: small creatures
that get what they want
with basic sounds.

Or James,
who told his people
God is their language

and their father
and their salvation
or else.

String Theory

The theory of everything: there are twenty-six
versions of me blowing wind into wind. All of us
turning our lungs inside out.

There is the bear who hibernates all summer
until she wakes into whiteness and wonders
where all the other bears have gone, why God

sheds His skin all winter. There is the unborn boy
floating as a name in a woman’s head. Call her Hoa.
Call her Mom. Call her once in a while and tell her

you could be anything, so you chose to be nothing—
god-like and infinite. Compress your being
into a book and call it holy. Hold it to your chest

and let your oldest testament beat its way
into your heart so your brain won’t
be the only organ who understands death.

Let that be the revision to my childhood
where I cry a little less and eat a little more,
where milk truly makes the bones grow

dinosaur-sized, strong and bound
for extinction. Holy star, holy meteor,
tell me a fable where the creatures aren’t afraid

of the author or his wicked whims. I am the same
in this realm and the next is my new mantra.
At least one of me has found a den to crawl into

for months each year just to remind myself of the time
I was tethered to my mother. Now, I am unsure
if death isn’t just a more permanent version of her,

or if I’m already dead in a parallel dimension,
my selves splintered into strings for the universe to weave
into the wind. All I want to know is when I die, if

it will be different from crawling back into the womb.


Kien Lam is a Kundiman Fellow, Kundiman Junior Board member, and a 2017 Best New Poet. He received his BA in English from Michigan State University and an MFA in Poetry from Indiana University. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming from the American Poetry Review, The Nation, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where’s an Esports Content Writer for Riot Games.