Huyen Hac Helen Tran

A New Type of Story

Who’s there? Ambling along
I hope they notice my face is hidden
and I hope they notice that I am sorry
I really am sir and ma’am I always wash my hands
Been taught to be clean and neat.
And I mean no harm and
Actually, I have a funny story for you,
it’s about my dad’s friend
Who came to Australia and went to the Woolies in Cabra
Bought a slab of tin cans with dogs on the sticker and ate it for weeks,
He thought this country was similar to his home
Until his friend, who had been here longer, let him know
But not before laughing till he cried
And I love this story for the adventure of not knowing
But every time I tell it no one laughs
so maybe I can never tell it again

And it hurts to feel a story disappear
and turn into something to be feared
A malicious thing I thought I could escape
But all I have is this body that begins and ends here
And what’s in the body besides the flesh
wrapped like a slug, warm and soft
with innards privy to pain
And this blood rush to the face?
It sucks itself out of the fingers and the chest
And keeps you right at the cheeks
Keeps you right at the edges of the eyes
And keeps you right at the cheeks
And something on your back waiting to
slither down or slide across or shrivel up
the sound of salty sweat
settling itself inside

And sometimes I forget because I am happy
and I love to take pause and look around for the birds
and dance as I go, dance as aimless
and nowhere near intention as I can.
and to forget another thing at the supermarket,
so I will walk back, once, twice, three times
and have my sister laugh at me
and finally, we’ll be on the way home
and hope that the ice cream isn’t melting
to put it in the freezer and the next day
wake up and do three laps around the park
then come home and lick it up
and have sugar stick to my lips
and watch my tongue go blue

I feel now instead the cracked lips
and the dryness of the tongue
and I speak often on how well
a daily stroll can ease the mind
but I’ve figured out now
it’s not a safe place to be
and I keep waiting
and keep saying the word and over and over
and I and I will and if and sir I’m sorry and-
when they eventually pass
because they were just ambling
I am sorry again
For misunderstanding
For assuming
And please know I can be better than this.
Really, I’m kind and I’m courteous and
I’m nice to strangers and believe me,
I’m never as nice
I’m never as easy or as simple
as when I am trying desperately to hold back a cough

About the Work


A New Type of Story considers what happens to stories, when they are wrought into something else by others. What occurs when meaning is twisted, not through our own choice but through others? The Asian Australian Alliance Racism Incident Survey found that 40.1% of racism related incidents occurred on a sidewalk or public street. When the pandemic began to rise and lockdowns were in swing, these shared spaces become plunged in abject fear and paranoia. For people of Asian descent, this was not only for fear of contracting the virus, but of the potential of racial abuse. The claustrophobia of being attacked is not new to people of colour, but with COVID, we once more have to learn what is the emotional, the mental, the long-term effects of enduring this?  The audio work uses Daniel Birch’s Looking Out to the Sea (CC BY-NC) as a backdrop for the poem.

About the Creative

Huyen Hac Helen Tran is a Vietnamese-Australian writer and artist from
South-West Sydney. She has written and published reviews, interviews, poetry, short fiction and essays. She is the Sales & Marketing Co-ordinator at New South Books, and one of twelve current authors in Western Sydney University’s ‘The Writing Zone: Mentoring Program for Writers and Art Workers’. She was Editor-in-Chief of UTS’ Queer Vertigo and has been published in Killer and A Sweet Thang, Vertigo and Queer Vertigo. Her work is forthcoming in SBS Voices, Sky Conversations (WSU, 2021) and Bleed Baby Bleed (Kara Sevda Press, 2021).