She Tilts the Axis of Herstory by Pacyinz Lyfoung

The Hmong have been marginalized, oppressed, and silenced throughout history. Sunisa "Sunni" Lee is a Hmong refugee descendant that carries within her blood and DNA centuries of generational trauma and oppression. In 2021, the Hmong have a face. That face is Sunisa Lee.

Welcome to Sunday Morning Lyricality, featuring a weekly song or poem by a Minnesota writer. Our current guest editor is Hedy Tripp.

Hedy Tripp is this October’s guest editor. Hedy was born and educated in Singapore. A Saint Cloud elder with the Minnesota Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL) and retired professor/lecturer, she came to her identity as a poet late in life, she says, “Because I never had time, earlier, to say, ‘I am a poet.’” For the past year, a Central Minnesota Arts Board (CMAB) Artist Career Development grant has allowed Hedy to intentionally immerse herself in what it IS to be a poet, to understand what lyrical poetry is, and to create Black-Indigenous-People-Of-Color (BIPOC) poetry by studying with BIPOC poets, especially Southeast Asian poets. Read more about Hedy and her work as a poet here.

Lyricality guest editor Hedy Tripp has chosen “She Tilts the Axis of Herstory” by Pacyinz Lyfoung. Hedy Tripp says:

This poem is in honor of Sunisa Lee, 2021 Hmong American Minnesotan woman gold medal Olympian in gymnastics. This poem continues to bring tears to my eyes as I hear the praise of one Hmong woman for another.  Pacyinz brings to life the history and herstory of Hmong Americans who came as desperate refugees to this country, America, and weaves it into a song of young hope.  I am intentionally not including any translations and leaving it to you, dear reader, to find the meaning of words you may not know. 

She Tilts the Axis of Herstory
by Pacyinz Lyfoung

Quicksilver breeze flipping iridescent 
Flexing bamboo slender in tides of wonder

She defies gravity, spins the hands of time, 
tilts the axis of herstory
out of the shadows of clouded pasts
out of the mantles of winter

Her feet strike down genocide, racism, patriarchy,
tough from barefoot ancestral journeys over 
thousands of miles over burning barren lands;
her ankles agile from curving 

around mountain ribs and edging  
other peoples’ countries’ boundaries;
her calves slender and sharp like needles punch down 
thunderbird thighs and remake the world.

Her arms wave like wings and fins,
Fingers like compasses,
Brown fire eyes,
Her fingers fan into hummingbird wings sweeping

zenith, cardinal, horizon, celestial, firmament.
Her painted nails grip the impossible like Hmong 
American dream she dances among snowflakes 
falling over frozen lakes

along tendrils of fuzzy green leaves sheltering 
the gold of squash flowers
under the pink of lady slippers.
She escapes the water dragons, the squalor 

of refugee camps, the fences of host countries, 
the poverty of immigrant ghettos.
She is a new thread weaving unchartered territory,
a new moon taming the night,

she flies fearless for her father, he of the broken back
as her mother silently feeds her iron will.

On the other side of the black marble wall,
the Hmong heroes whose names will never be sung
weep tears of joy as they see her streak across the sky,

blossom beyond their wildest dreams:
their Hmong child lift their Hmong name
across the Heavens, Hnov peb lub npe Hmoob nrov saum ntuj;
give them a face, Hmoob muaj ntsej muag.


Pacyinz Lyfoung’s bio: 

Pacyinz Lyfoung is a French-born, Hmong American, Minnesota-grown woman poet. She has published in several journals and anthologies and is working on her first poetry manuscript. She has facilitated for the BIPOC Writing Workshop (a grassroots virtual group that sprung up as a support and creative space during the pandemic lockdown and has met with no fail every week), She recently won the DC Poet Project’s Nature Open Mic. Pacyinz says,  “I feel that when I write poetry my gaze is able to cross the gaze of my ancestors, my many cultures, and the communities I live in. My poetry has been my connection to recovering my family cultural heritage, my Hmong and Asian American histories, and building bridges and solidarity with other disenfranchised and mainstream communities. During the pandemic and in the midst of multiple racial and economic crises, my poetry has deepened and gone from being a peripheral activity to taking a central role in my identity and social justice activism.” 


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