i was seven when baba mimed building tunnels underground,
mosquitos chewed on my eyelids, as i sipped on a juice box,
as the Viet Minh marched down our street in Queens, saluting baba,
on their way to fight the ogres lighting neighborhoods on fire, the smoke i
could glimpse on the horizon, past our boxed homes, alleyways thinning,
i could hear people in their rooms, yelling, crying, laughing, singing, vomiting most nights,
people spitting paan on their driveways, uniforms stained, heavy like soaked in rain.
they fought for all asian people, my baba said, as i kept tasting mango, my eyes darting,
as baba burped, and sipped from his bottle too, grinning ahead,
eyelids drooping, but i could still see the men and women dragging their tools,
carrying super soakers, all loaded, guided toward the flames.
later that week, some Russian kids down the block, trailed after me,
once their shadows loomed, i threw dirt,
and ran my ass home.
according to Grace Lee, the Viet Minh developed discipline, long-term political goals, and leadership,
they won their country’s freedom because they knew their enemy, how they operate,
their ambitions, which were turned against them, over time.
after covid-19 hung in the air, seeping in like chemicals dropped overhead, i read more between shifts, i downloaded podcasts and interviews, and scraps, shielding myself.
halfway through the first year, i stopped going to my classes at the nearby community college,
i stopped eating breakfast, or lunch, and, my feet often sank into the asphalt
whenever i’d wander, like mud, i’d drag,
my girlfriend had said i needed therapy, quick,
i laughed, as cracks formed on the ceilings.
you need to be here, she insisted, one evening,
as we gathered ourselves, uniforms sticky from pounds of sweat,
she and i would head to the wawa, grab some bottles,
she asked me about the cuts,
strewn across my knuckles,
a guy had lobbed mucus on me,
called me something strange,
i punched him, until he melted.
i chuckled. cause why not?
did you know that the Viet Minh were an inspiration to people all over?
Not just Asians in Asia, but for people in Algeria, in the U.S.?
the Black Panther Party saw,
why do we keep forgetting? how did we?
between shifts, as i hurry deliveries, noodles with no seasoning,
burgers with no bite,
in and around center city, and by the liberty bell,
i see the men and women ahead, still marching,
smoke flowing down the lanes,
when i got jumped the other day, after my girlfriend stopped talking to me,
the man kicked my sides, pressed my face into the sizzling pavement,
maybe people walked by, i don’t know,
but he and another voice said, they didn’t want me here,
i waited till their laughter also melted,
faded but echoed,
and i lay there, gathering,
hearing boots stomping, tasting smoke.
Sudip Bhattacharya is a New Jersey-based writer and doctoral candidate in Political Science at Rutgers University. He serves as a co-chair of the Political Education Committee at Central Jersey DSA, and his writing has been published in Current Affairs, Cosmonaut, The Brooklyn Rail, Reappropriate, and The Aerogram, among other outlets.