Rumpus Original Poetry: Three Poems by Joy Katz



Poet’s Note: The second poem in this series includes homophonic translations of sơn, con, and sụn as it travels between Vietnamese and English


birthmother miss

she is I am

late to get him not by minutes       but by days 

a life, an epoch         what were you doing         

where were you all that time he 

waited by the curb     dancing next to empty fields

but that’s me not him                 

dancing impatience that turned into patience 

when my real family was on their way       I made myself know 

not mom in our old car          my real ones are coming         

which is more beautiful 

the feeling of their better love or my power to summon it 



birthmother miss

son rose off her tongue      a son in tones      

the woman who would become mother listened for all of its edges 

how son came through the air to her from the first       in vietnamese       

she could not repeat        not echo right         try again 

level out before the curve       alight       then slip down but don’t drop 


son in the mouth of the woman who would become mother 

became a contrail, a mistaken victory; it beckoned too forwardly 

she could not find the chute to get out       from inside 

her try she said son in english as if to explain 

the birthmother translated from vietnamese: paint 


son said the woman who would become mother again

in english         having no fit gift       the first,

trying to say what she said        said sơn

sơn became soon in the woman who would become the mother’s ear

soon! she said        and the birthmother translated: cartilage



birthmother miss

once there was a boy with a hole in his life he did 

not mind looking into 

as into a glass of soda (he was not allowed soda) 

that wet his face with a harmless celebration 

anyone might have        


at night the hole shallowed and spread       a pond with no far shore 

he could touch the grass at its edge


during storms the hole moved

to the bottom of his throat 

and called up a song that fell back into a few notes 


he could climb down in       he found 

and get out again on his own

to daylight and breakfast and his life 

which he almost but did not completely understand



Author photo courtesy of author

Joy Katz is the author of three poetry collections, most recently All You Do Is Perceive (Four Way Books), a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Her work in progress, The Color Cure, documents every minute of whiteness in her life. A trans-racial adoptive mom, she also writes nonfiction covering adoption, tennis, and cities. Honors for her work include National Endowment for the Arts, Barbara Deming Foundation, and Stegner fellowships; as a Writing Pittsburgh fellow, she was writer in residence at Grasso Sausage, the last Italian business in Larimer, Pa. She collaborates in the social practice art collective, whose last project was live music for shift workers, and teaches off the tenure track in Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops for women. More from this author →