Talking Story

Kao Kue

Daughter:
Nam,
You are the beginning

When there was darkness,
You dared to walk alone into the light

I open my mouth
To receive a cup of your honey

Maybe the sweetness
Will remind me of the courage I once had.

Mother:
Ntxhais,
You are the future

Remember the love that we share

You are now waking from your long slumber
Yellow rain falls on your black hair

Although the white knight is away,
You will learn to fight the First World invasion
With a child strapped to your back

Grand-Daughter:
Puj,
You are the beginning

When there was hunger,
You dared to pluck fruit from the tree

I burn paper money to honor you

I have left my child on the raft
With traces of opium still on her lips 1

Please take her safely to your shores

Paternal Grand-Mother:
Miv Ntxhais,
You are the future

Do not grieve for the spirit
Who has already crossed

I will wait for her by the river,
Embrace her with my song

By moonlight, I will rock her to sleep
With the stories of the love that we share

Grand-daughter:
Tais,
You are the beginning

When our historians were burned at the stake,
You carried our stories on flowery cloths

It is your truths that I confide in
It is your memories that give hope

Let me sit at your feet
As you reenact the epic of your beauty

Maternal Grandmother:
Miv Maum,
You are the future

Do not be afraid of your own strength

I will never allow you
To follow a stranger’s footsteps

With the love that we share,
Tear down the fence on our southern borders

Follow dream to freedom


To Remember in Dreams

i sit in a graveyard made of jars
waiting for your return

i am haunted by
heavy, wet hair floating along the Mekong

it is here that we are separated

i cross the river to freedom
but you do not escape

your lover binds you to his side
his lust softens your cries to me

through the trenches
i hear your morning song

cradling my daughter closely
i give her your name

we will sing your sacrifice and beauty
through our womb

sister, do you think of me?


Kao Kue: I have been blessed to be born a Hmong woman and storyteller. Although my family has struggled to survive in the United States, I felt safe and loved by the stories and songs my parents and grandparents told me. My parents and grandparents were forced to leave their homeland of Laos following the Vietnam War. They barely escaped from the incoming Lao and Vietnamese Communist troops and they could only carry their memories with them to their adopted country. My parents and grandparents coped with the trauma of war and displacement with poetry and song. My elders taught me that poetry, song, and story can heal and reconnect our broken communities. Inspired by their artistry, I have infused the Arts in my work in the non-profit sector and education. My poetry tells the story of historical trauma and how an exiled people can find home and community through flower cloth stories.

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Notes:

  1. During the Secret Wars in Laos, many Hmong families crossed the Mekong River into refugee camps in Thailand. Fearing a crying child would alert Communist patrols near the River, parents would give small doses of opium to their infants so they would sleep through the journey. Many infants passed from opium poisoning.