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Unterberg Poetry Center

Paul Tran

Paul Tran won the Discovery contest in 2018. They are poetry editor at The Offing and Chancellor's Graduate Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis. Their work appears in The New Yorker, Poetry and elsewhere, including the anthology Inheriting the War and movie Love Beats Rhymes. They are a recipient of a Ruth Lilly & Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from Poetry Magazine & Poetry Foundation, and are the first Asian American since 1993 and the first transgender poet to win the Nuyorican Poets Cafe Grand Slam, placing Top 10 at the Individual World Poetry Slam and Top 2 at the National Poetry Slam. They live in St. Louis. For more information, please visit https://iampaultran.com/

Below are Paul Tran’s poem “Our Lady of the Sacred Heart” and a handwritten version of that poem, originally printed in the Winners’ Reading program May 10, 2018, as well as a video excerpt of their reading from that night.

  • Our Lady of the Sacred Heart

    I know you see me in his garage opposite
    your hot pink cathedral. He reduces me
     
    to a toothless mouth, a void, and I begin
    to understand you. There’s nothing we won’t
     
    do to each other, I discover, as he seals me
    with his weight: the weight of generations
     
    just like him. I shut my eyes, and still
    he compels me to look. So I look. I take
     
    everything in. His mind at work, fired by
    thought, like glass being shaped in a furnace,
     
    cooked and cooled until it hardened, its core
    cut by curiosity. He and I were then made
     
    for each other by our instinct to live, though
    living now hurts me more than death ever could.
     
    There are many ways to die, you remind me,
    pointing towards your scorched heart, lance-
     
    pierced and thorn-leashed, as I think I’m dying,
    sensation abandoning then shocking my body,
     
    consciousness suddenly paralyzing then gone,
    and this isn’t it. That’s why it feels worse.
     
    There’s a toll to continue. Unlike you, I can’t
    say Gabriel came to me. I have no conceivable
     
    evidence. My father finishes and turns on
    the television. Paris By Night 46: Châu Ngọc
     
    and Phương Vy slurring Patti LaBelle’s Lady
    Marmalade. Even the winter air invades me.
  • Manuscript page

Paul Tran reads “Our Lady of the Sacred Heart”