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Huy Nguyen: Brothers, Drowning Cries
Interactive Literature Selections

David Mura "Huy Nguyen: Brothers, Drowning Cries" from After We Lost Our Way (E.P. Dutton, 1989; reprinted by Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1997). Copyright © 1989 by David Mura. Reprinted and recorded by permission of the poet (website: www.davidmura.com).

During Reading Strategy
Create Mind Pictures

Vocabulary from the Selection malaria
mirage
reef
thrash

Guided Reading Question 1
What does the student give the speaker? How does the paper begin?
Click to answer

1
Shaking the snow from your hair, bowl-cut
like an immigrant’s, you hand me your assignment—
Compare and Contrast. Though your accent stumbles
like my grandfather’s, you talk of Faulkner1,
The Sound and the Fury2. You mention Bergson3,
whom you’ve read in French. Durée. How the moment lasts.
Your paper opens swimming the Mekong Delta4.

2
As you lift your face, the sun flashes
down wrinkles of water; blue dragonflies
dart overhead. You hear your brother call.
You go under again, down, down, till you
reach the bottom, a fistful of river clay,
mold a ball in the dark, feel your lungs struggle,
waiting to burst—

    Where is your brother?

Guided Reading Question 2
What does the student hear? What does he do?
Click to answer

Against the current’s thick drag, stumble
to shore, the huts of fishermen—
My brother, my brother’s drowned!
Faces emerge from black doorways,
puzzled, trotting towards you, then
all of them running to the river,
diving and searching the bottom
not for clay but flesh,

Guided Reading Question 3
Where does the student seek help?
Click to answer

and there the man
crawls up on the beach, your brother
slumped over his shoulder, bouncing up
and down as the man runs up and down,
water belching from your brother’s mouth
but no air, no air: flings
your brother to the ground, bends,
puts mouth to your brother’s lips,
blows in, blows out, until your brother’s
chest expands once, once, and once,
and his eyes flutter open, not yet back
in this world, not yet recognizing the blue
of the sky, that your people see as happiness,
even happier than the sun.

Guided Reading Question 4
What is wrong with the student’s brother? Who resuscitates him?
Click to answer

3
Five years since you drifted on the South China Sea5,
and the night Thai6 pirates sliced your wife’s finger for
a ring, then beat you senseless. You woke to a merchant ship
passing in silence, as if a mirage were shouting for help.
Later, in that camp in Bataan7, loudspeakers told
of a boat broken on an island reef, and the survivors
thrashing through the waves, the tide pulling out,
and the girl who reached the shore and watched
the others, one by one, fall from starvation,
as she drank after each rain from shells on the beach.
At last only her brother remained, his eyes staring
upwards at the wind and the sun, calling her name . . .
The camp went silent, then a baby, a woman sobbing.
And you knew someone was saved to tell the story.

Guided Reading Question 5
Where does the student go next? What happens to his wife? to him?
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Guided Reading Question 6
What disastrous story does the student hear at the camp in Bataan?
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4
Now, through Saigon8, your mother carries kettles of soup to sell at dawn.
While malaria numbs your brother’s limbs, he shivers on a cot in prison.
You write: “I wait for his death. Safe. Fat. World away.” I red mark your English.
There was a jungle you fought in. There’s a scar above your wrist.
A boy dives, splashes and, going down, clutches his stomach and twists.
You’re at the bus stop by Target9. Snow still falling, a fine blown mist.

Guided Reading Question 7
What is happening to the student’s mother and brother in Vietnam?
Click to answer

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Selection
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Postreading Worksheet page
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