I smile when I think about you,
You’re my new hope, my resurrection, born in correction,
That was a line from Nasir Jones,
I had a mind to write this letter in two poems,
But out of time so I settled for one poem in two tones,

By two tones I mean,
A poem in two tongues on two teams,
The five stones of David and red strings,
They interlace two cultures and blend like bamboo baskets weave,
Sewn flowers to trees like the two tones of color in the paj ntaub of Hmong speech,

Sometimes I wonder if I…


Soft hands, rough hands

Strong hands till the soil,

Making room in gardens for mustard green boil,

Short handle spoons, pork belly, lemongrass, and skimming the scrum oil,

Leaf tunes, and dib kaus after the day’s toil,

Bruised hands till the soil,

Irrigating deep roots with the slow drop of words that help kids grow,

So when hot soot, or monsoon clouds make your tears flow,

Or when owls hoot, and dad thunders, lashes, and throws,

Clay plates and old boots, you’ll remind yourself of the garden you’ve sown,

Calloused hands till the soil,

For pumpkin squash flowers and bumblebee…


My city is a reminder,
Of both the good and the pain,
Of both the losses and the gain,
Of both the blessings and the shame,
Of both where you've gone to and from where you came,

My city is a reminder,
Of the things we need to fix,
Of how the hood is segregated even after it mix,
Of how 2 policemen and 8 bullet clicks created news clips,
Of how poor schools and poor kids pay the price for district budget slips,

My city is a reminder,
Of how kid was jumped on the way home from school,
Of how…


The story of my people reads like a sad poem,
A spoken word piece,
Like a smile and broken Hmong words from a small neice,
Soulful or soul food like catfish wrapped in banana leaves,
Reconcile my future and rectify my past on my Jesus piece,

Love letters recorded on cassette tapes,
Rewind and record,
Grandma sang songs of freedom on hilltops,
My dad cried silent tears about rivers and flipflops,
Grandpa would mention things like Pathet Lao and slipknots,
I tell your story over a beat and call it hip hop,

Rewind the tape,
But the only thing I hear…

Tong Thao

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