Fives logo – a stylised number five

with Jenna Le

The last thing that made you smile

Sitting on my apartment balcony sipping loose-leaf Earl Grey, with the billowing gray and rain-scented open air on two sides of me, the tree-darkened undulations of a New Hampshire mountain range to my left hand, and my apartment building’s community garden just below. I know nothing about gardening, except that my father was a hobbyist gardener when I was a kid, and I like looking at green things. Someone has set up a pyramidal-shaped scaffolding in the community garden that looks like a little swing-set for tomato plants. When, on the sidewalk below, someone I recognize walks past, carrying a kitchen trash bag to the dumpster, it takes me a few seconds to identify their oblivious figure from my odd vantage point, but then I remember that I know and like this person, and I grin.

A secret

I have a stuffed animal, a plush manatee the length of my forearm, that I got at a souvenir shop near my sister’s home in Florida. Before leaving for work in the mornings, I cover it with blankets because manatees are susceptible to cold stress syndrome.

The last thing you wrote

Eight lines of rhyming doggerel about whales because I was giddy to discover that rostral rhymes with nostril.

Before that, this haiku:

months after our pho date
in my sandal
a jalapeno seed.

As I understand it, pho made in Vietnam is traditionally seasoned with a variety of hot pepper native to Southeast Asia, whereas the pho of Vietnamese Americans is often seasoned with Mexican jalapenos, due to these being more readily available in the U.S. As a Vietnamese American, I get an extra little frisson from seeing the experiences of my people reflected in English-language poetry. I think the English-language haiku tradition, in particular, could use more infusions of jalapeno.

Your favourite city

Even though I lived in Minnesota until I was 17, I think of Boston as the city where I came of age because I was so emotionally stunted until I came there to attend a math camp when I was 15. Being in Boston makes me happy on a subdermal level, like how you feel when you listen to the music you grew up with, the songs you learned to dance and kiss and fumble to.

What you’d place in a time capsule

This is a horrible answer, but the poetry books of myself and my friends. When I was a little kid, I used to collect things, obsessively, compulsively—postcards, stickers, Chinese paper cuttings, blank floppy disks, Barbie dolls with Asian features—but it never really made me happy. So I suspect time capsules aren’t happy, either. So maybe I’d place a kiss inside, to cheer it up.

Jenna Le a daughter of Vietnamese refugees, lives and works as a physician and educator in New Hampshire. She is the author of two full-length poetry collections, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011) and A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Anchor & Plume, 2016). Her poetry has appeared in AGNI Online, The Best of the Raintown Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Denver Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, and Massachusetts Review, while her essays and criticism have been published by Burrow Press, Fanzine, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, The Rumpus, and SPECS.