Hoop Girl

By | 1 February 2019

As the trishaw rolls to a stop,
I spy a girl standing on the footpath
in Rue Catinat, near the Continental,
twirling a hoop around her midriff,
spinning it with enough torque to hold it up—
the supple undulations of her stomach
propelling it round and round.
A dark curtain of black hair falls
across her face as the bracelets
on her wrists catch the sun. For a moment,
I see Mai in her nightgown as she runs
into our bedroom and leaps
at the mosquito net, tumbling across the bed,
all veiled and twisting, her giggles
announcing her presence like a pealing bell.

I have a sudden urge to throw a handful
of coins at this girl to buy her hoop,
even if I have to pay more than ten times
its worth so I can send it to my daughter.
But I can’t post it to Hanoi.
And what if she doesn’t remember me?
I haven’t explained my absence, why
I left in the middle of the rainy season,
how one evening I was lifting her up
to light the sticks of sandalwood incense
before our ancestor shrine and the next
day I had fled. She laughed when we saw
the sandpipers at Haiphong, wading
on the mudflats, their long bills
darting into the water like chopsticks
immersed in a steaming soup.
The sandpipers fly south to escape
the winter, before returning.
Yet two winters have now passed
since I last held my daughter.

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