Red Dirt Poetry Showcase for AAPI Heritage Month

Red Dirt Poetry Showcase for AAPI Heritage Month

On March 12, 2024, Sydney Aerin, the Director of Outreach for Red Dirt Poetry, reached out to me via Instagram DM inquiring if Quill Hawk Publishing would be interested in donating some books for the arts showcase event in May for AAPI Heritage Month. We donated fifteen copies of Asian Women Trailblazers Who BossUp. Sydney later asked if I'd be interested in reading some of my poems at the event. Each poet was given 15-20 minutes to share their work. I decided to share a little bit of poetry and a little bit of prose.

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The venue was at Point A Gallery in Oklahoma City. The gallery is a "queer-owned and managed art gallery, performance venue, and event space located on NW 39th Street in OKC, dedicated to providing an inclusive space for folks of all ages, stripes, and inclinations to come together and connect."

The gallery features hand-made crafts, fine art, prints, clothing, and designs from "an eclectic mix of local artists, with a special emphasis on the creativity, joy, and expression of queer, trans, non-white, indigenous, disabled, and marginalized creators. We also host casual meetups, workshops, live music and comedy, drag and burlesque shows, and other events with a dedicated stage, lights, sound system, patio, and flexible spaces for getting dolled up, storing your gear, or dreaming up the next big idea."

It was a beautiful day spent with the community hosted by Red Dirt Poetry’s Chairperson, Yoko Hill. The five poets featured were:

David Ball
Abel Ebrahimi
Soon Jones
Amy M. Le (Quill Hawk Publishing)
Stephanie Phung.

Below are the poems and stories I shared during my reading. Miss the Boat was a poem from my book, Snow's Kitchen: A Novella and Cookbook, which is the third book in the Snow Trilogy and is a coming-of-age story about finding one's identity between the confines of a strict Asian family and the grueling demands of American culture. This poem is about making choices despite the turmoil around us because the consequences of indecision can cost us so much, like our freedom.

Miss the Boat

Gunfire screams and the roof collapses. 

The sky ablaze with anger, I think I hear her. 

Death. She comes to me. She’s coming for you. 

Death is but a prostitute. Pain is her pimp. 

I run. My legs anchored in rot. I cannot miss the boat. 

Headless soldiers stripped naked before me. 

Limbless babes suckle and cling to Mother. 

My sister, my brother, where are they? 

Society crumbles. From ashes rise new power. 

I must leave. I cannot miss the boat. 

Where freedom has no footing 

And truth swallows lies 

I sit and wait and wait and sit 

I puke and crap all over myself 

Knowing I will miss the boat. 

Bombs roil the air, they blind me. 

Torpedoes light up the ocean floor. 

Flames burn and smoke shields. 

I wallow. I didn’t take action, and now, 

I’ve missed the fucking boat.


The next reading is an excerpt from my upcoming memoir, From Broken to Brave: Memoir of a Heart Warrior

From Broken to Brave

Ever since my friend Randy told me about this podcast he'd been listening to, I've become obsessed. The Other Side NDE is the name of the podcast. People share their stories about life after death - or should I say - life after life? There's actually a book titled "Life After Life" that I want to get. I've always been a spiritual person and believe NDEs are wakeup calls. Near Death Experiences. There's a Confucius quote about two lives. Basically, we all have two lives. It's when we realize we only have one that our second one begins. I'm inclined to think I'm on my third one.


When I was born nine months before the fall of Saigon, I had a hole in my heart. My CHD was later labeled as an atrial septal defect. My mom was told I'd be lucky if I lived to see my fifth birthday. This was during the Vietnam War. Life was already hard and scary. Somehow, she found the courage to escape after the war ended. She took my cousin and me, joined by forty other refugees, out to the middle of the South China Sea in a rickety old shrimp boat, not sea worthy and definitely not meant to hold forty-three displaced Vietnamese. Meanwhile, we were chased by communist soldiers firing AK47s at us. We raced fast into the unknown into a sea of awaiting Thai pirates. That was my first escape from death.


After bobbing aimlessly at sea and living in deplorable, dank conditions at a refugee camp, we were sponsored to America. Shortly after coming to Seattle, I collapsed and tumbled down a flight of stairs outside our apartment, down thirteen steps to a cold concrete landing. My heart condition caught up with me. Living life with a congenital heart defect isn't easy. I'm winded all the time. I hustle but can't run a mile. I'm small and will forever be pocket-size although my personality never got that memo. I've been fighting all my life. I fought to live. I fought to eat and keep food down. I fought to take up space and have a seat at the table. I fought to stay above the water, yet under the radar, to be invisibly visible... or perhaps, visibly invisible. It was the only way to stay alive. So, when I got out of a six-hour open-heart surgery to fix my ASD, that was miracle number two. I had cheated death once again.


This July I turn fifty. From being told five if I'm lucky to fifty is something rather remarkable. I count my blessings all the time. I've cheated death in other ways. My ex-husband was cruel. My stepfather threatened to shoot me. I was homeless for a minute or two. I thought about suicide once. Okay, thrice, maybe more. I've taken lives and I've created life. In some ways, I wish I had an NDE so that I could meet my spiritual guide and come back to this life to live it better - whatever better means.


When my mom died, I broke down. I hungered for her in a way I never hungered for food or new clothes and shoes. I couldn't function. My world shattered. I had to redefine my purpose and figure everything out on my own. How can life be so cruel? One day my mom is here, and I can hug her, talk to her, laugh with her, roll my eyes at her, stick my tongue out at her behind her back, and then... nothing. Gone. She ceased to exist in my life. I can't touch her. I can't hear her voice by simply calling her. I can't taste her cooking. She was my light. She was the hook I hung my coat on and called home. The tether that grounded me. Rooted me.


So now, I live my life for her. Yes, I live my life for my son and husband, too. And now, as I approach fifty, I'm learning to live life for me. I'm still broken, but I'm braver. At times, I'm still that helpless baby with a hole in my heart. I'm still the five-year-old clinging to my mother as the sea tried to swallow us. I'm still the little general who is small but mighty. And now, I'm a fifty-year-old who is healing.

No photo description available.


This poem was written for The Heart Community Collection, a resource for the CHD community founded by Jenny Muscatell, Anna Jaworkski, and me. The poem was published as a blog on the THCC website and in the CHD magazine as well as included in the audio anthology of Behind the Rain, released by The Okie Bookcast -  a podcast founded by J Hall featuring Oklahoma writers. 

The Heart Warrior's Creed

I am a heart warrior.

I am a fighter.

My strength comes from my faith

and is fueled by my perseverance.

I am strong,

not because of what I can lift,

nor what I must endure,

but of my sheer will to fight

for a better tomorrow.

My perseverance is powered by my heart,

the muscle that reminds me I am alive.


I am a heart warrior.

My family is my life.

I would die for them as they would die for me.

I am not afraid to show pain, insecurities, or doubts,

for those emotions strengthen my resolve.

They let me know I am human,

made in His image.

I have courage.

I have heart.

I will rise and not give up.

I am a Heart Warrior

and this is my creed.


The final piece of prose was inspired by a dream I had about my best friend who released an autofiction titled The Copper Phoenix.

"Insomnia is a bitch. I woke up with tightness in my muscles and thoughts of “what is the story of my life, what is the truth of who I am” swirling in my head as if my brain wasn’t full enough!

I’ve been thinking about my presentation in Kansas City, about the next ghostwriting project, about my authors, some of whom are going through lots of hardships right now, about my publishing company, and about the damn chicken thawing in the fridge. Oh my gosh, the chicken. Nope, I didn’t go to Ralph’s to get a chicken, Jack. I had it delivered. God bless Instacart shoppers although I wish mine knew the difference between broccolini and broccoli and burrata cheese vs. ricotta cheese. Oh well.


I saw Lynn in my dreams last night. Now, that was one woman who knew her way around the kitchen. She could sit for hours and talk about summer vs winter squashes and actually make it interesting. I hadn’t had a visit from Lynn in a while. I was beyond excited to see her in my dreams.


“Lynn! Oh my God, you survived cancer!” I said.


Her eyes glistened and her smile radiated through the kitchen. The copper hair I knew so well glowed with fiery bright light, they looked like streamers. Behind her were hundreds of candles emitting warmth and the smell of pine. Her face was bereft of makeup, yet her skin was flawless. She looked healthy and vibrant. She wore an emerald-green sweater, her signature color, that hugged her slim figure, and blue jeans adorned with jewels. Bling on her pants was also her signature look. A copper phoenix pen lay on the table next to her right hand. I have one exactly like it. They were custom-made for us by David when we wrote her book and did our book signings together. She took up writing, I thought.


“I didn’t just survive cancer, Amy. I survived life!” Lynn said.


We hugged and the dream ended. It left me breathless. I cried. I felt whole. The fears melted away and the peace settled in. I inhaled deeply and savored the exhale. My best friend was on the other side and in bliss.


I miss her so much. Living isn’t easy. Grief and joy ebb and flow every year and I just want to ride the highs, not the lows. Life is definitely not for the faint of heart but for the brave. I’m in a clunky body that weighs me down, but I am thankful for this body that allows me to do so much. As much as I ache to see Lynn, I know that in twenty-four hours, I get to see her husband and son in Kansas. I already know there will be teasing and banter. I know I’ll be in the kitchen cooking panang curry. And I know there will be lots of tears as we remember the many ways she loved us. Without fail, we’ll talk about the blueberry incident and the Bert stare for the hundredth time as well as next steps on the horizon.


I can’t wait to tell Lynn I survived life too. One day. Until then, I’m counting the blessings and living in the moments."


What an amazing platform and opportunity to share stories and poems meaningful to us. I want to thank Red Dirt Poetry and Point A Gallery for having us poets and writers. I encourage everyone to share their voice.


About Amy M. Le

Amy M. Le is a Vietnam War survivor and Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) warrior. She is the award-winning author of the Snow trilogy and is currently working on her phoenix series—three books showcasing the resilience of people who’ve survived deep trauma. Amy is the founder of Quill Hawk Publishing, a woman-owned, Asian American company that helps writers indie publish their books while amplifying diverse voices through storytelling. She co-founded The Heart Community Collection, a resource for the CHD community, and sits on the boards of the Vietnamese Boat People nonprofit and AAPI Artists for Mental Initiatives (AAMI). When she is not writing or volunteering, Amy is experimenting in the kitchen or watching NFL games, Formula 1 races, or UFC bouts.

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