When I am fourteen, my father will quit 

his job and sell our home. He will use the money 

to start a sign-making business. He will start 

by buying computers and big heavy equipment 

and we will spend nights sleeping in the van. 

I’ll try my best to sleep, to close my eyes 

and feel warm in my wet socks and thin winter coat. 

In the mornings, I’ll brush my teeth at school 

and comb my hair so I’ll look like nothing is wrong 

with me. I’ll wander the empty dark halls 

before the students fill them, and sometimes 

I’ll sing and dance like a star in a Broadway play. 

When I see a teacher, I’ll sit quietly outside 

a classroom door with a heavy book in my hand. 

Moby-Dick. The only teacher to ask 

is Ms. Irons. I will tell her that I’m just 

so excited for school and I’m so happy to be here. 

It’s not a lie. I’m happy that for the whole 

of a day, I’ll be warm and I can be with my friends. 

I don’t tell her all the other stuff. That this will be 

the year my parents’ marriage will begin to fall apart. 

That they’ll stop dancing in the living room 

and that my mother will stop making me beautiful dresses 

which match hers from leftover materials,

that the bottles full of colour and fragrances dry up. 

I didn’t know it then so how could I tell her? 

After school, my mother will pick me up and drive 

for hours. She’ll sometimes stop at a lake somewhere 

in cottage country and listen to the radio. She’ll walk

back and forth, never saying anything. And I 

will bow my head and work out the math problems 

in my homework. The math problems are easy.

They are always about some guy who had to get

to the other side. There’s always an answer, a sure thing.

You just have to work your way there. Everything 

you need to know to solve it has already been given 

to you. There is no secret but the answer,

shimmering alone without any signs around it.

I will keep my print small, filling up every blank space

I can find like a Captain plugging leaks in a sinking ship.

It will get dark and just as the sun sets, 

the streetlamp will turn on. I will angle 

my notebook to catch this light. This light.

I will go back to school and hand in my notebook

and it will be perfect. Perfect. It’s what I’ve earned.

A friend will lean in and announce my score,

and I’ll hear someone ask, “How’d you get perfect?”

I can’t begin to say what it took to get it that way. 

It’s perfect. Perfect.

Souvankham Thammavongsa was born in Nong Khai, Thailand in 1978. She has written three poetry books, all of which are published by Pedlar Press. Her first book, Small Arguments, won the 2004 ReLit prize and her second book, Found, was made into a short film by Paramita Nath. The film was screened at film festivals worldwide including TIFF, LA Shorts Fest, Fargo Film Festival and Dok Leipzig. Of her third poetry book, Light, the Globe and Mail says, “This new collection confirms Thammavongsa’s place as one of the most interesting younger poets at work in the country.”