Hoa Nguyen

Narrative Poem After Charles Olson’s “Cole’s Island”

The white woman    rather thin with a cinched
vintage coat who I met and later referred to as ‘Pill Box’
 (saying ‘I call her Pill Box’)                  

                                         January    it was night
in a warehouse space              after an evening
of poetry performances
          A small warm
setting     very cold winter         (think black, red, and white)

Table set with antlers & roasted marrow 

                          She loud-laughing earlier at a poem
             about Vietnamese people or
I thought so         and even asked about the joke
(Did you get that on the ‘inside’? I had said) 

                           but she being Pill Box
           said nothing and later
shared a Bic lighter by tossing it
at me—or toward me   

                                (But note     not simply ‘chucking’ it either
more like a side-wrist slinging) 

You could say she ‘slung’ or ‘slanged’ it
(the small plastic lighter)              with velocity
or maybe I could say simply       ‘she threw it’

     as in definitely
at me    directly           as earlier she had thrown
                              her pill box hat
in my general direction
               though my poetry girlfriend
                                caught the hat in her lap

About the lighter    Pill Box cackled
      (actually more like a smothered chortle) 

                  She said        ‘Made by Dow’

That’s it:   ‘Made by Dow’ 

She linking the Bic to the poem
and the line where she got it
                from my reference to napalm
in the napalm poem
                                      (“made by Dow Chemical”
                                       said the poem)    

            and so it was maybe this or the other    I don’t know
which provoked the thing      her narrow laugh and throwing
the made-by-Dow lighter at me to say

            ‘Made by Dow’
‘Made by Dow’ 

I since have come to say       ‘Made by Dow’
        and tell the Pill Box story

Born in the Mekong Delta and raised in the Washington, D.C. area, Hoa Nguyen lives in Toronto. From Wave Books, her poetry collections include As Long As Trees LastRed Juice: Poems 1998-2008, and Violet Energy Ingots, nominated for a 2017 Griffin Prize for poetry. She teaches poetics at Ryerson University, for Miami University’s low residency MFA program, for the Milton Avery School for Fine Arts at Bard College, and in a long-running, private workshop.