A Guide to Parenting

Winner of The Nasiona Nonfiction Poetry Prize, 2019

Lafayette Maynard Dixon, "Sunset Magazine: September," lithograph, 1904, purchase, Leonard A. Lauder Gift, 2015, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thoughts When I Found Out
I Was Going to Have a Daughter

Thank goodness because I have no idea
how to be a man.

Stay away from men—not just the jocks
but even the artsy literary types.

Might as well stay away from women too.
You can live with us, always and forever.

You will be part Greek,
Italian, German, and Cambodian.
More than this, you are our moon and stars
before we even give you that name.

I hope you look Asian like me.
What would people think
when they saw me walking a stroller
with a white baby in it?
That I kidnapped someone’s kid?

I hope you don’t look Asian
like me.
I don’t want anyone, boy or girl,
reducing you to some Oriental fetish.

You will never know
your grandparents on my side.
I hope you will never know the hunger
that comes with such loneliness.

I hope you will never inherit
your old man’s troubles.

Forgive me for the mistakes
I will make. There is no user’s manual
for anything that’s beautiful in life.

***

  

Sunday at the Beach

The boy, a child himself,
smile vast as the ocean,
brown hair as wild and
reckless as the waves,
came up to Chanda
who was chasing seagulls,
splashing the salty water,
and stopped her in her tracks. 
Chanda turned,
seashells in hand.
He hugged her,
and the shells fell.  
His mother smiled
uncomfortably.
I smiled to let her
know it was fine.
Then Chanda looked up
at me,
helplessness in her eyes,
squirming in his arms,
and ran towards me.  
I bent down and hugged her. 
The boy followed,
waited for Chanda
to turn her head,
then put his palm
on her forehead and pushed
her head back.
The boy walked away
leaving his mother
and me in shock.
Weeks later,
away from waves crashing
and seagulls squawking,
my two-year-old girl
said to my wife,
“Hug hurt.”

***

  

Chanda Came Home

And told us that a girl from school

had taken away her toys and
hit her. I watched my wife
hold our little girl close to her chest.
The only fight I was ever in:
a sixth-grade girl pushed me
to the ground after I told
the class I had a crush on her.

I spent over a decade
earning advanced degrees,
reading books and gleaning
the wisdom of the ages:
moderation from Ancient Greece,
turning the other cheek from Jesus,
and showing compassion for all life
from the Buddha.

But all I could feel that afternoon
was rage. 
I got down on my knees and
to my wife’s horror
showed Chanda how to beat
the crap out of a three-year-old girl.

  

BUNKONG TUON is the author of Gruel (NYQ Books, 2015), And So I Was Blessed (NYQ Books, 2017), and Dead Tongue (with Joanna C. Valente, forthcoming from Yes Poetry), as well as a contributor to Cultural Weekly. He’s working on a book of poems about raising his daughter in today’s America. He teaches at Union College, in Schenectady, NY.

Twitter: @BunkongTuon


Featured image: Lafayette Maynard Dixon, “Sunset Magazine: September,” lithograph, 1904, purchase, Leonard A. Lauder Gift, 2015, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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