Final Dispatch from Laos
by Mai Der Vang

Concerning our hollow breasts,
Lice factions multiplying in our hair.

Concerning our unused stomachs,
Molars waiting to chew, taste buds

Obsolete. By then, we won’t remember
We’re alive. We’ll be the soil covered

In mines. Concerning last night’s
Attack, seven dead, five injured, four

Gone missing, three arms. Concerning
A forest in combat, alliance of trees,

Countercoup to the coup, concerning
Dominos. They’ll arrive to collect

Our eyes, but the vines will have eaten
Us up. As for our feet, we left them behind.

And as for our heads, they went foraging
For roots. With regard to shrapnel jutting

From a boy’s leg. An old man lured into
The fire by his dream. A woman cradling

Her intestines. With regard to orphans.
A sweet leaf unable to father any txiv.

A hand without. We are yet done,
The leftovers ever still waking

Inside the smoke of a hole.


Note: The word “txiv” means both “fruit” and “father” in Hmong.

Mai Der Vang Poet photo by Andre Yang

 Photo by Andre Yang.

Bio from Mai Der Vang website:

Mai Der Vang is the author of Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets, longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, she served as a Visiting Writer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry has appeared in PoetryVirginia Quarterly ReviewLA Review of BooksGuernica, among other outlets and anthologies. Her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere. Mai Der is a member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle where she helped co-edit How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology. As a Kundiman fellow, Mai Der has completed residencies at Civitella Ranieri and Hedgebrook. Born and raised in Fresno, California, she earned degrees from the University of California Berkeley and Columbia University.


Poem Added: Thursday, May 31, 2018  /  From “Afterland,” (Graywolf Press, 2017). Used with permission.

Split This Rock Poem of the Week: “Please feel free to share Split This Rock Poem of the Week widely. We just ask you to include all of the information in this post, including this request. Thanks!”
To read more poems of provocation and witness, please visit The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database at


And what do some of us remember: the sudden appearance of chubby, “adorable” Hmong babies (and their mothers) in streets where they did not exist before.  Who were these people? Where did they come from? Why?
We knew, some of us, that among those babies there would be poets, or the mothers of poets.  That they would one day rise to tell us what we guessed (the horror) but could not know. We were witnessing a piece of the destruction of the world. It seemed farther away then, than it does today. -AW