Minnesota Poetry: Bao Phi’s “The Godzilla Sestina”

Bao Phi has been a performance poet since 1991. A two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion and a National Poetry Slam finalist, Bao Phi has released several CDs of his poetry, such as the recently sold-out Refugeography to his newest CD, The Nguyens EP. He was featured in the award-winning documentary feature film The Listening Project as an American listener who traveled the world to talk to everyday people about global issues and politics.

In addition to his creative work, Phi was recently honored with a Facing Race Ambassador award in recognition for his community work, and has published essays in topics from Asians in hip hop to Asian representation in video games. Currently he continues to perform across the country, remains active as an Asian American community organizer, writes a popular and provocative blog on the Star Tribune’s Your Voices community blog, and works at the Loft, where he creates and operates programs for artists and audiences of color. Here’s his poem “The Godzilla Sestina:”

The Godzilla Sestina

Under the ocean where I was created

in a womb of dancing atoms, a tectonic tale

is breaking the skin of sea floor. Dreams burn here:

lava flows underwater like bleeding fireballs,

sunless sleep disturbed as they listened

for the sound of the nightmares they dropped.

Fat Man and the Little Boy drop,

like two suns tumbling, sent to destroy creation,

no one will be left alive to listen

for the lessons we need to learn from this tale,

just a skyline made of a blossoming fireball

and a symphony of silenced screams horrible beyond hearing.

So I’m born, a radiating thunder lizard, here

to crush American Dreams as my footfalls drop

like apocalypse, and from my lips a chorus of fireballs

razes all that you have created

like runaway rays of sun, my tail

too large to fit in your streets, listen

to see if your superheroes will sing if no one listens,

their words so tired that no one hears,

flag colored costumes useless in this tale.

Look at the sky for God, for an answer, to see if black rain drops,

to see this towering monster created

by the heat of a million rabid fireballs

unleashed on a people turned to ash by the fire, balled

fists and screams evaporated while history listens.

Now I loom, people scramble in my jagged eclipse, the penumbra I created

is shaped like the ghost of the Enola Gay flying across the moon. Here,

I will illuminate your whispered crimes as the indigo of night drops

before your story is fully told.

Children will sleep trembling under my tail,

the threat of my story like a guillotine of fireballs,

a sharp string of ghastly stars waiting to drop

because even before this lesson, they should have listened,

before we came to this, they should have heard,

they should have known what would be created.

I speak english in this tale, but they don’t listen,

so I speak in fireballs, the language they hear,

the nightmare they dropped, the monster they created.

– “The Godzilla Sestina” by Bao Phi, reprinted here with permission from the author.

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