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Who is that beyond the looking glass?

When July comes, the journey shall cease
and I’ll return in silent,
footsteps muddled by the ravaging engines of planes
and the trains passing by my home.

But home won’t be my first stop
home is no place to be
home expects Chiến
and Chiến is not me.

Chiến is a successful mathematician
working in a finance firm
making six figures to feed himself
and extras to send home

Chiến is a prominent researcher
writing papers by the mound
having mentions of his name
reach the top minds at home

Chiến is an ace scholar
nailing A’s year-round
stacking scholarship refunds
and making the news at home

But I’m not Chiến
Sometimes I wonder
what Chiến would do?

Would Chiến have…
been fired from his first job in the States?
be homeless and disgraced?
live from paycheck to paycheck,
waiting to be sent home?

Would Chiến have…
failed most his exams?
skipped most his classes?
avoiding phone calls about school
from home?

Would Chiến have…
muted all social media
avoided all his friends and family
wandering a park alone at night
hoping he’d never have to go home?

No, Chiến would never.
Chiến is a strong-willed person who lives on raw talent

Chiến wouldn’t cry alone in a leaky apartment
drink pints of watered-down beer
eat packs of cheap ramen
every time he looks at his savings account

Chiến wouldn’t stab himself repeatedly
with a screwdriver
or a drawing compass
every time he has a mental breakdown

Chiến wouldn’t punch a wall
until it cracks
until his knuckles bleed and shatter
every time he has anger issues

Chiến understands what it means to be perfect

I see perfect as
a mark on my old wall
where I bashed my own head in at the age of eight
to punish myself for being retarded
for missing a question in a quiz
for not getting a perfect ten in third grade
for being an insignificant

Chiến understands what it means to be a good son

I see being a good son as
scars on my fingertips
where I cut my nails deep into them
to remind myself to find a job
to stay in America
to be rich and happy
to give my mother
a better

Chiến understands what it means to be normal

I see being normal as
the exhaustion in my eyes
where I try to focus on the person speaking
to try to catch every word
to write them onto my mental workbook as subtitles
to read and understand
like a

Chiến understands how to exist
I don’t

But I know one thing:
Chiến doesn’t understand what happiness means.

Chiến wouldn’t have been able to accept
being gay
Chiến wouldn’t have been able to see
a life without coding
Chiến wouldn’t have been able to understand
in a world without

Maybe I am the free one
because my words can exist
on paper
on canvas
on digital
on books and collections.

To me,

Being free is

To open my eyes each morning

And feel loved

And feel motivated

To hop on a computer

To draw

To write

To recite

If being free means

Starving myself, waiting for the next paycheck

Pushing myself, breaking my body physically and mentally

Hating myself, scratching and stabbing and punching

every inch of my body to fill with scars

To paint on the canvas that’s my skin

Then fuck it,

Let me be my own muse.

If being free means

Killing myself

Then fuck it,

Let me be