Devotion By Mai Ly Hagan

Devotion

I.
Odd numbers at the funeral
Incense comes in threes or fives
Three sticks lit, smoke receding,
dropping like ashes, or birds
from the sky.

I lead the procession. I,
the single daughter,
dressed in white,

I hear whispers.
From behind, I
feel eyes on me.

II.
Dead lids, in disbelief, wax
figurine. You remind me of
porcelain. Lips parted, turning blue.

It’s been years since I’ve last seen you,
Stress marks like deep chasms,
deep like hole in chest.
Furrowed brow, stitched,
like tear in cloth or
flesh.

I swear I hear a scream,
from you or from me.
I have to leave.

I can’t take it—
This is the one place where I’ve seen you at peace.

III.
In a past life, I
think I was a soldier.
You tell me I am
your father, reincarnated.
Dead, in jungle, nineteen seventy.

Violent death is the only way
to explain my belligerence, my
rage. It explains you, too,
in a way,
your trauma, your pain.

Which is why I can’t feel
anger towards you.
Only deep-set shame.

I don’t know
how reincarnation works,
but I suppose after my latest
death, my soul became a seed,
tucked in the nape of your belly.

In my next life, I think I will be a dog.
It is the only way to atone.
I think you will be a bug.
And I will chase you, leap and corner you in a leaf
and chew you up.

V.
A car dressed in flowers leads
your ashes to the temple, we
follow. We hand you
to the monk with soft knuckles.

We take the same route back.
Scattering petals along,
each knob of the path,
hoping you find your way home.

If you don’t love her, why are you devoted?
I place green bean cakes on your altar.
Your favorite.

If you don’t love her, why are you devoted?
I light candles
three times a day.

If you don’t love her, why are you devoted?
I sit, on knees, I pray, I pray, I pray.
Devotion, devotion, devotion.
Devotion, devowed, devoured.
Pray, pray, pray.

X.
On the hundredth day,
I flip the portrait,
I can’t bear to see your face.

Pain is my offering— the
language that we share. Devotion:
is choking from,
shrouds of smoke/slash/
is an offering of your flesh.

By Mai Ly Hagan

Biography:

Mai Ly Hagan is a high school junior from Hanoi, Vietnam. Growing up, she had a love for fantasy novels, which developed into an interest in creative writing. Mai Ly hopes to study English literature in university.

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