Kỳ Đồng, by Jenna Le
Note: Paul Gauguin dedicated his final self-portrait to Kỳ Đồng
(né Nguyễn Văn Cẩm), a Vietnamese exile he befriended in his
dying days in Atuona.
My teachers called me “smart,” “child prodigy,”
and that’s how Prodigy became my name.
By eight, I’d aced a standardized exam
for grown-ups. Starved for heroes, men made me
their movement’s figurehead, their Jeanne d’Arc, she
whose pure bright light upheld her people’s claim
to freedom. Tyrants, fearing what I am
and what I might become, shipped me to sea.
I tried to feel at home in Polynesia:
to quench my pining for my motherland,
I taught myself the art of anesthesia,
and when Gauguin fell ill, I nursed the man.
I was his friend, his peer. He suffered seizures,
and as he sketched his last, I held his hand.
Jenna Le is the author of A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Indolent Books, 2018), which won 2nd Place in the Elgin Awards, and Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011). She was selected by Marilyn Nelson as winner of Poetry By The Sea’s inaugural sonnet competition. Her poems appear or are forthcoming from AGNI, Bellevue Literary Review, Denver Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Massachusetts Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Pleiades, Poet Lore, Rattle, and West Branch.
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