He forked a cube of tofu and stuck it in
his pretty mouth. The sound of him
chewing. Clink of metal against the ceramic
I later cleaned, have always cleaned, can
already see me cleaning, like the good wife
I am. I listened to the ceiling fan—loud, then
soft, then loud again—above us, its blades
cleaving hot June air. Air so dry and mad
that it ignited everything it touched.
He’ll remember this. His hand slamming down
like a gavel when I said his friend can’t stay
with us. When he said divorce. When I said no.
When he shoved himself away from the table,
lifted his body, full of kindling and want
for smoke, into the heat threatening the hills,
casting its glare on little houses like ours,
and went to bed because he needed to lie down.
And I, still sitting where I was, where I’ve been
all my life as a woman, thought
how only part of everything he says is true.
Lie down? No. My husband needed a lie.
So I emptied his plate. I ran the hot water.
I poured dish soap onto the sponge and began
my immaculate work. Holy Mother.
Blessed Virgin. I waited for the Ambien to kick in,
for his ragged, roaring snores
to disrupt my silent devotion, and then, only then,
did I wash my hands. The judge said I was callous,
calculated, cold. Like my husband, he only got some of
it correct. I’m not callous. It was too hot to be cold.
Calculated? Indeed. I counted. Each yard of rope,
each knot I tied, and then I tied the knot once more.
I’m careful. Men don’t appreciate that shit.
Men like words like bitch. Cunt. They say
Honey, I’m home. Immediately a dog runs stupid—
breathless to their feet, licking the muck
off their shoes. Did the prosecutor think about that
when he demanded for me a life sentence?
Revenge. Aggravated mayhem.
My husband woke. I removed his pants. I took
a ten-inch knife and hacked off his dick.
I carried it into the kitchen. I almost kissed it
goodbye. I remembered each time he forced it
in me. Men who learn to be men from men
never learn. You want be man? You want hole?
Here hole for you. I shoved every inch
of him—which wasn’t much—into the garbage
disposal. I turned it on. There was blood and skin
and what sounded like a throat opening, choking,
but, of course, no cum. There’s hardly ever any.
Pity. I should’ve known, all those years ago,
when I mistook union for love and love for
someone willing to push my hair
away from my face in the dark when we turn
back into animals, that marriage would be just
that: two animals in a cage, starved
for the other’s meat. I’m not afraid of death.
I have been born twice. First as Que Anh.
Second as Catherine. Saint of Alexandria.
Saint of the Wheel. Saint imprisoned and scoured
until the streets ran red as my hands. I wiped
my hands and reentered our bedroom. There
he was. Crying. He cried the whole night.
Whole? He’ll never be whole again.
For Catherine Kieu
From Hunger Mountain Issue 23: Silence & Power, which you can purchase here.
Art by @anna_croc01, curated by Dana Lyons.
Paul Tran received a Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship and the Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize. A Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow in The Writing Program at Washington University in St. Louis and Poetry Editor at The Offing Magazine, their work appears in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, and elsewhere.