National Poetry Month: “Vietnamese Noodle House”

The former Houston Poet Laureate reads a poem that feels like an intimate snapshot.

By Gwendolyn ZepedaApril 27, 2016 10:47 am,

April is National Poetry Month. Throughout the month, we’ve been celebrating with poems read by their Texas-based authors, recorded in the Houston Public Media studios.

Poet and fiction writer, Gwendolyn Zepeda, is a native Houstonian and served as the city’s very first Poet Laureate from 2013 – 2015. She reads her poem “Vietnamese Noodle House,” an impressionist vignette of a rainy day in Houston.

Vietnamese Noodle House

Saturday mornings
The concrete glows humid
Or else sleek gray, in the rain.
We enter fluorescence and
Everyone stares but I’m
Used to it. Over in the corner
In the coin-filled shrine
The Buddha got apples today.

Our regular waitress
Has a beautiful face
Long hair tucked under a baseball
Cap. If I try to say the words: Pho! Tai! Lon!
She laughs. She smiles. She’s
Proud of her pupil.
When my boyfriend says
“Three, please,” she frowns.
“Americanized bastard,” maybe she whispers.
The standards are higher for him here, we know,
But he’s Chinese, not Vietnamese.
Chinese, not Vietnamese.
Oh, well.

Number Eleven is a soup with raw beef.
The soup cooks the meat for
You. Stir it and watch.
The food on my plate now is vinegar, sweet.
Vinegar, then sweet
With soda and limes.

Outside, the dry cleaner’s bird
Gets some sun.
He’s shiny and black with his face
Orange and gold.
“I love you!” we tell him.
“I love you!” he says. Then he
Screams really loud something
In his own language.
Then whispers sweet something
In Vietnamese.

I love him, I love you, I love
Pho tai lon.
The concrete glows humid
Or glistens in rain.


To learn more about this series, go here.

Audio produced by Catherine Lu.