As part of National Poetry Month, and to call attention to Catzie Vilayphonh's current efforts to raise funds for the Laos In The House project to bring Laotian American artists from across the US to Philadelphia for the first time, here is a more modern iteration of my poem "Laos In The House" from 2009, which first appeared in my book Tanon Sai Jai. You can check out the Laos In The House indiegogo campaign at:https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/laos-in-the-house
Laos In The House
When has a house gone Lao?
There may not be one precise event.
It's not just the first time a fresh batch of padaek is made by grandma.
It takes more than a few servings of tom mak hung in the kitchen.
A six-pack of cold Heinekens and BeerLao in the creaking cooler,
Bottles of very fine cognac and homemade rice whiskey
Can't combine by themselves in the cabinet
For this magic moment, awaiting the change like good guests,
Or a cluttered porch of friendly shoes and worn sandals.
Yes, a living room baci calls many things, so can talk of pi mai lao
Or makeshift shelves for those Lao icons we all know so well,
But even a happy nop in the hall is not all that's needed for transformation.
Such a house does not require Lao dramas, but it's surprising
If those don't eventually show up, as certain as
A child's tears from their first taste of jaew at the family table.
Scents of mint and bamboo and barbecues sunk into the beams?
Watching someone live out their silapin dreams in a basement
Just because they found a microphone and synthesizer?
Not the sole keys, and neither is a sincere khop jai, surprisingly.
Maybe you invited mae and I and all of my family from every corner.
We might speak of numbers and lotteries and years as refugees,
Host to a thousand small arguments and soft mangos,
Memories of Chinatowns, gilded wats and the buildings of antiquity.
These all build a house, a nation, a people holding together.
And in that house there will be dreams, things lost and things sought.
One by one, they shuffle in with a bright smile white as grains of warm khao.
But a house has gone Lao only when the hearts within have chosen so,
Free as the wind, remembering like stones,
Growing flowers for moving stars.