Minnesota based Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay became the first writer to receive the Alfred C. Carey Prize in Spoken Word Poetry, August 1, 2010, in recognition of her poem, “When Everything Was Everything.”
Brandon Lacy Campos, a writer and community activist, established the Prize in Spoken Word Poetry to honor the memory of his late grandfather, Alfred Charles Carey, described as a “hard working construction worker and family man from Northern Minnesota, who raised a family of eight, including three children not biologically his own.
Campos recalls his grandfather represented a series of beautiful and sometimes hard contradictions in race, class, and history. Without what is now considered a contemporary vocabulary around the issues of race and sexuality, Carey accepted all of his children and grandchildren for who they were without judgment.
“To have my poem, ‘When Everything Was Everything’, receive this great honor is incredibly humbling, as it was chosen as a reflection of the sentiment of family, love, and diligence that Grandfather Alfred Charles Carey embodied,” said Vongsay. “I only hope that my work will continue to make Brandon and his family proud.
“I feel like Frédéric Passy or Jean Henry Dunant, the inaugural recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901,” she added.
Vongsay will receive a modest stipend with the award. The Lao American writer, essayist, touring playwright and spoken word poet, has performed across the United States and in Italy.
Vongsay is a 2000 graduate of Como Park Senior High School in St. Paul. She earned her BA in English Literature from the University of Minnesota in 2005.
She is currently working on a Masters degree in Public Policy, Social Work and Creative Writing at the Minnesota State University Mankato.
WHEN EVERYTHING WAS EVERYTHING
1. Food stamps in my pockets. Two dollars worth of Now n Laters. Green saliva, couldn’t swallow quick enough. Standing nervous. Red light on Dale Street. Crossed the bridge over Hwy 94. Trekking back to St. Albans. Candy wrappers clenched tight. Waved good-bye to Tiger Jack.
2. Every Friday Bhet opens the screen door and announces, “Pahw mah la, pahw mah la!!” All afternoon we’ve waited. In my father’s tan Izuzu truck we drove to Hudson. Mom buys lottery tickets for her, bags of Funyuns and a giant slurpie for us. Bhet likes the blue ones — they stain his tongue so good, makes a point to show me every time. On the way home, mom spends imaginary millions in out-loud daydreams. Blue-lipped smiling, Bhet tells me we are like kings in Dad’s gold chariot. I agreed.
3. Bowl cuts. Red-handle scissors.
4. Holding my Korean blanket, rolled under my arms. Dad carried trash bags, everything we owned, slung over his shoulders. Tiny feet tired from walking, twelve blocks to our new home. Stopping every other he asks, “Ee la, nyang die yoo baw?” Every time, looking up, forcing smile, “Doiy, ee pahw.”
5. 692 North St., St. Paul. 250 Oxford Str. North, St. Paul. 308 North St. Albans, St. Paul. 3634 15th Ave. South, Mpls. 1090 York Ave., St. Paul. 130 Bates Ave., St. Paul
6. “Mah nee, ee Thoun,” Bhet says. I follow him to his first grade classroom, passing cubbies, water color family portraits, and a picture of Jesus the Christ. He lifts up the lid of his school desk, no. 2 pencils with bite marks, color crayons, and two small boxes of Sunmaid raisins. He hands me one and smiles, showing teeth.
7. I interrupted my class when I walked in, returned from an ESL session. Mr. Smith made everyone read out loud, stopping when they want to. No one ever reads more than three sentences from The Cay. They giggled and snickered on my turn. That day, I read two chapters without stopping to breathe. The snickering, ridiculing, and ESL sessions stopped after that.
8. The art of haggling with the Hmong grandmothers at the Farmers Market is not for the meek minded.
9. I killed my father’s lawn one summer with my blue plastic pool. Fresh out the bag Disney underwear and bare chested, grass blades speckled my feet and ankles, I watched as the grinning crocodile begins to swim, hidden sometimes by the sun’s reflection, until water spills tiny waterfalls over the brim.
10. Hand-me-down jeans, ripped, and dirtied at the knee. Working in cucumber fields. Picking only the ones as big as my 5 year old hands.
11. Grocery store. Pharmacy. Welfare office. Parent-teacher conferences. All are unmaneuverable without your double tongue, looking up to your right, up to your left, at adult mouths moving and adult ears, waiting, listening to everything lost in an 8 year old’s interpretation.
12. Carrying a roll of toilet paper in a wrinkled over-used plastic bag, I jumped into my father’s Izuzu. Seldom visible at 3 A.M., the moon can’t hear Father singing. During the hour drive to a Christmas wreath-making factory, suspended between awake and weary. Mother cups my face with her sap-dried hands, dirt under her nails, plants kisses before unrolling 6, 8, 10 sheets to blow the dust out of her nose. Her hand rakes my hair and neck leaving dried flakes of sap, the smell of pine, the residual optimism she still has.
13. I went to Head Start preschool. Bhet went to Saint Mark’s Catholic school.
14. Be the first to line up in front of the food truck before its back door slide up, thundering over the murmurings. Everyone wonders if they’ll get a bag of frozen chicken this time. Or angel food cake, two days passed the expiration date. I exchange all of my cheeses for boxes of rice with anyone who doesn’t look like me.
15. Mrs. Jaquelin traded cassette tapes with mom every week. Roy Ayers, Sade, and Dolly Parton for Thai singers I only knew by face.
When Everything Was Everything *Notes*
2. Pahw mah la, pahw mah la!! (Dad is here! Dad is here!)
4. Ee la, nyang die yoo baw? (Babygirl, are you okay to walk?); Doiy, ee pahw. (Yes sir, Daddy.)
6. Mah nee, ee Thoun. (Come here, Thoun.)