on being chị hai (verse 2)

i am the eldest daughter of an eldest daughter* of an eldest daughter

* see also: translator. between motherland — immigrant — new country. by the transitive property, the
tongue—a rubber band stretched thin. the daughter on the phone with the insurance company,
ordering the pizza, calling the bank, chasing away the door-to-door evangelists, the cable tv salesmen.
the first grader sounding out stock market vocabulary, reading my mother the money section of the
sunday paper. what do i send you to school for, she cries at the faltering syllables. i am sent, like a dutiful
guard to a watchtower, to discover and then pass down in reverse a language neither of us has ever
known, to fortify this family for what i can see coming in the tower distance. “translate” is from a latin
root that means “to be carried across”. i am the gatekeeper of what is carried from the past to the
present, the barrier and therefore the bearer between the trauma behind me and the path before me.
the hand strikes me, and i do not pay it forward. the words come to me as weapons, and i disassemble
them and build homes from the scrap metal. but now my past is a barren wasteland of haunted houses
that i’ll spend the rest of my life trying to put back into words.

—Kimberly Nguyễn (The Journal)