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  • NYS Writers Institute

Poetry Friday: "Fish Carcass" by Vi Khi Nao

A poem for Friday and a Q&A with the poet/writer Vi Khi Nao

Fish Carcass

Vi Khi Nao

fish carcass

say hello to pork rind

+ arborio rice

while castaway caraway puree returns

home to deconstruct wilted carrot

from its butter + herb remnants

fish carcass

say goodbye to a knife fight

between under-marinated onion slice

+ wasted redbor kale

amidst a gun battle between

grilled salmon + paprika

fish carcass

say goodnight to electrolytes + magnesium

as a chemical imbalance takes

place inside the borderline cod meat

fish carcass

say good morning to anti-griddle + orange liqueur

whose pre-conditional love for salt + bitterness

reminiscent of caviar + pancetta vinaigrette

has put quail eggs

under the cloche

fish carcass

say midday to emu eggs while

the sun twirls

inside a decadent basket of

fish sauce without making

the plastic mattress, walk-in

refrigerator, + bacon sabayon

feel left out

fish carcass

say cloud nine

say egginess

say shell-shocked

say cornichon

say it angelo

say italian meringue

say calf liver

say republic of georgia

say lavash

say turnpike turnips

say succotash

say yuzu marmalade

say overcooked quail

say chef teah evans

say fish head

say into a barrel

say bacon fat

say baby corn

say flavor profile

say with victory

say the gods are with me

say no guts no glory

say did not materialize

say story on a plate

Source: Poetry (November 2016)

Vi Khi Nao's work includes poetry, fiction, film and cross-genre collaboration. She is the author of six poetry collections including A Brief Alphabet of Torture (winner of the 2016 FC2's Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize), her recent novel, Swimming with Dead Stars, published in February, and a collaborative work, That Woman Could Be You, with Jessica Alexander published in April from BlazeVOX.

She was the Fall 2019 fellow at the Black Mountain Institute:

By Moriah Hampton, PhD, an instructor in the University at Albany's Program in Writing and Critical Inquiry (WCI). Her fiction, poetry, photography, and photopoetry have appeared or are forthcoming in The Coachella Review, The Ponder Review, Wordgathering, The Sonder Review, and elsewhere.

How is your latest novel, Swimming with Dead Stars, responding to prevailing notions of Vietnamese-American women’s writing?

It is thus a narrative of the Vietnam war in its everyday effects; of violent migration; and of the interlocking systemic injustices that undergird contemporary immigrant life in the United States.

The novel grew out of an awareness that the narratives surrounding the Vietnam war had coalesced into certain hollow standardizations; what for me has always been a texture of reality seemed to circulate in American discourse largely in the form of convenient cliché.

I intend this novel as a means of generating alternative sets of affects and concepts, a new rhetorical vocabulary, with which to grasp the twinned workings of postwar and health and mental health in a way only literature can.

What do you want the audience to remember while reading Swimming with Dead Stars?

You don’t have to try very hard: it’s easy to be alone, isolated, and desperate. As a friend once said, “I am just flower and clitoris. I am easily forgotten.” And, any health crisis bears resemblance to an alien abduction/accident or an intergalactic travel.

What do you hope the audience gains from reading Swimming with Dead Stars?

I hope they gain a new metaphysical heart. Or a physical one, if it’s possible. I hope they learn to love me a little more, to care for Vietnamese (American) women more, and to not turn to misogynistic men’s literature for inspiration or to give them (prestigious) awards for being misogynistic.

Do you consider Swimming with Dead Stars in conversation with any artworks? If so, which ones and how?

It’s in conversation with a film: Bela Tarr’s "Werckmeister Harmonies." It’s in the opening pages of Swimming with Dead Stars.

"Werckmeister Harmonies" is one of my favorite films of all time.

I watched it before my open heart surgery. And, since much of Swimming with Dead Stars deals with the pre-surgical realities (the operating theater) of a particular moment in a person's life, it seems fitting.

The opening scene of the film uses the human bodies to reference/symbolize/metaphorically or symbolically substitute for certain planetary planets. I too also applied celestial /intergalactic objects/destinations to build and also create characters to meet such cosmic proportions and consequences in my work.

What larger conversation do you want to have about Vietnamese-American women’s writing, art, and its reception?

Swimming with Dead Stars stands in conversation with previous collaborations that I have undertaken alongside She Who Has No Masters(s), a collective of Vietnamese-American writers and scholars grappling in different ways with questions of diaspora, collectivity, and immigrant subjectivity. Our collaborative work has included chapbooks, performance art, video, numerous literary translations into and out of Vietnamese, and more.


She Who Has No Master(s), the Vietnamese diasporic arts organization Vi Khi Nao says influenced her novel:


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