Teresa Mei Chuc brings us a voice often muted in America—the young refugee’s. Here she is with her mother fleeing her native country, Viet Nam, to ironically find refuge in the very country that set out to destroy hers. She begs the question for all of us—are we capable of genuine compassion? Can we open up our arms?
Mother shows me a lacquered painting on a plaque of Quan Âm, bodhisattva of compassion, riding a dragon.
It is misty around the bodhisattva and the dragon. The picture looks so real, almost like a photo.
A sacred vase in one hand and a willow branch in the other to bless devotees with the divine nectar of life.
Mother says that she and other boat refugees saw Quan Âm as we were fleeing Vietnam after the war in a freight boat with 2,450 refugees.
When she looked up towards Heaven, in the clouds, she saw the bodhisattva in her white, flowing robe riding a dragon.
Mother says that the goddess was there to guide and save us from the strong waves of the South China Sea. I should know better than to believe her though she swears it’s true. I ask again and she nods, says really, I saw Quan Âm in the clouds as we were escaping. I should know better than to believe her.
But, a part of me wants to believe in a bodhisattva, in compassion riding on a mythical creature, to believe that somehow something more than just our mere human selves wanted us to live.
This poem first appeared in Whitefish Review.
Teresa Mei Chuc was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and immigrated to the United States under political asylum with her mother and brother shortly after the Vietnam War.