an established line of travel or access
Our ship creeps along the river
route without lights without cooking without bathrooms.
the shame felt when inadequacy or guilt is made public
We are allowed into the commander’s cabin, where the bathroom is so white and clean, so worth the
small edible herring or related food fish frequently canned
No one has offered to share what I smell:
sardines, dried durian, salted eggs, toasted sesame.
The list of edible foods here includes durian, which is considered the "king of fruits" because of its large size; but it also has thorns and a stinky smell that might discourage people who don't know about its creamy filling and delicious taste.
in agreement with
Morning, noon, and night we each get one clump of rice, small, medium, large,
according to our height
not in action or at work
Mother cannot allow
idle children, hers or anyone else’s.
cut off or left behind
Mother smooths back my hair, knowing the pain of a girl who loves snacks but is
stranded on a ship.
a distinctive odor that is offensively unpleasant
He keeps clutching something in the left pocket, where the
in an advanced state of decomposition and having a foul odor
Neighbors complain, even the ones eight mats away, saying it’s bad enough being trapped in
putrid, hot air made from fermented bodies and oily sweat
Here, "putrid" and "fermented" are adjectives that describe a bad smell. But as a verb, "ferment" can describe turning sugar into alcohol or working someone up into a state of agitation or excitement.
having or marked by bends or angles; not straight or aligned
A flattened chick lies
crooked, neck dangling off his palm.
have a presence
South Vietnam no longer
In Latin, both "sistere" and "stare" mean "to stand"--so something that exists (verb) and is extant (adjective) still stands, unlike the fallen country of South Vietnam.
from a position on a vessel into the water
One woman tries to throw herself
overboard, screaming that without a country she cannot live.
lacking in strength, firmness, or resilience
Inside lies my mouse-bitten doll, her arms wrapped around the
limp fuzzy body of his chick.
feel sad about the loss or absence of
Brother Khoi nods and I smile, but I
regret not having my doll as soon as the white bundle sinks into the sea.
so exceedingly large or extensive as to suggest a giant
gigantic ship with an American flag moves closer.
steadiness of mind under stress
I’m grateful the boat starts to rock, so Mother hasn’t the
composure to scold me, not just yet.
Fleeing from one's home country is a significant stress that could cause one to lose composure, but here, Mother is mentally unsteady because she is physically unsteady from the rocking of the boat.
something of sentimental value
I roll my fuzzy
souvenir between my thumb and finger and can’t help but smile.
someone who mediates between speakers of different languages
We have landed on an island called Guam, which no one can pronounce except Brother Quang, who becomes
translator for all.
provoke someone to do something through persuasion
The Disney cartoons
lure out the girls, who always surround Brother Vu, begging him to break yet another piece of wood.
a feeling of craving something
appetites wake up that Brother Vu just has time to cook rice and serve it with plain fish sauce.
a transparent purple variety of quartz; used as a gemstone
Mother wants to sell the
amethyst ring Father brought back from America, where he trained in the navy before I was born.
perceptible by the senses especially the sense of touch
What’s the point of new shirts and sandals if you lose the last
tangible remnant of love?
A remnant is usually "a piece of cloth left over after the rest has been used" but it can also be any tangible "small part remaining after the main part no longer exists." The phrase "tangible remnant" seems needlessly repetitive, but both words emphasize the importance of the ring that represents the intangible love of Father and Mother (which is even more intangible now because he's not with them).
containing or characterized by a great deal of water vapor
We are flown to another tent city in
humid, hot Florida, where alligators are shown as entertainment.
make revisions to
Just like that Mother
amends our faith, saying all beliefs are pretty much the same.
look at with fixed eyes
staring, blinking, wiping away tears, all without speaking English
without delay or hesitation; with no time intervening
I love him
immediately and imagine him to be good-hearted and loud and the owner of a horse.