Getting the Gist, Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai Izabella, 8th grade STEAM


☾ m y s t e r i o u s

☾ i n t e l l i g e n t

☾ i t u i t i v e

☾ w a t c h f u l n e s s

☾ s u p e r n a t u r a l

☾ s e l e c t i v e

☾ i n d e p e n d e n t

☾ c l e v e r

☾ s e c r e t i v e

☾ a s t u t e


1975: Year of the Cat

In this poem, it is February 11. Which is the day of Tet, the first day of the lunar calendar. Tet is the most important celebration of Vietnamese culture. The translated meaning of Tet is "the first morning of the first day". On Tet, everyone gains one year in age and how you act on the day of Tet foreshadows the whole year. Since, only male feet can bring luck. Ha's mother insisted that one of Ha's brothers must rise first in the morning to bless the house. However, Ha was not fond of the idea and woke up before dawn and tapped the tile floor with her foot first.

🔮Inside Out

February 12

The gist of this poem is that when Ha's mother visited the I Ching Teller of Fate, he foretold that Ha and her family's lives will twist inside out. However, Ha does not know if her and her family's lives will twist inside out for the better, or for the worse.

"It gets worse before it gets better"

🔮Inside Out

February 12

War is coming closer to Ha's home and that the year's bánh Chùng will be smeared in blood.

I am the architect

of my own destruction

- Unknown

✿Kim Há

✿Kim Hà


KhoIn this poem Hà's three older brothers tease her because of her name. Brother Quang remembers Hà was red and fat as a baby hippopotamus when he first saw Hà, hence creating the name Hà Mã, River Horse. Brother Vũ imitates Bruce Lee as he breaks wood or bricks, while screaming Hà Ya. Mother's Tail is what Brother Khôi calls Hà. Since she is constantly being three steps away from her mother. However, Mother states that Hà's name originated after the Golden (Kim) River (Hà). Mother also tells Hà They tease you because they adore you. Even though Hà knows Mother is wrong, she still adores her mother. Hà adores her mother so greatly that she would give the first vibrant yellow, ripe papaya to Mother. As a representation of her love for Mother.

⌚Papaya Tree

⌚Papaya Tree


It was as if the seed was a fish eye, slippery, shiny and black. However that eye-like seed had now flourished into a tree, transforming slowly, but surely as time ticked. Since, Brother Khôi was four years older and taller, he was able to see higher. As a result,he was the one to discover the first white blossom. As the time went by, Brother Vũ at eighteen, later found a newly born papaya, the size of a fist, clinging onto the trunk of the tree. However, Brother Quang, the twenty-one year old studying engineering, had not noticed any new feature. But he might notice something before Hà does. This resulted in his little sister to rise first every morning and stare at the green lightbulb-like fruit, determined to be the first to witness its ripening.

☼Ha would rise first, every morning, just to stare at the fruit and witness it ripening. It was as if Ha wished that the fruit would be her puppet and she would be the puppeteer.

☂ TiTi Waves Good-bye

Early March

Not only are the rich are traveling to Vung Tau, to flee Vietnam on cruise ships. But TiTi, Ha's bestfriend, is leaving as well. Not only is effecting TiTi but Ha as well. Tears where cascading down their faces, while both were gasping for air. When TiTi entered her family's car, she began to wave from the back window. Although, TiTi and her family left Vietnam, Ha is glad that her family is able stay.

"It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder."- Einstein

✘Missing in Action

✘Missing in Action

March 10

It is the anniversary of when Father left home on a navy mission, nine years ago when Ha was almost one. One hour south from the city, on Route 1, he was captured. On this day, Mother prepares an alter to chant for his return. His portrait is displayed. The peacock tail-like wrinkles that are at the corners of Father's forever-young eyes are too much for Mother to bare. So, she locks it away after the chant of his return is finished, with the exception of the offered tuberoses, glutinous rice, incense, and fruit.

⌂Mother's Day

⌂Mother's Day

March 15

People can barely afford to buy food. Therefore, hardly anyone buys the clothes that Mother creates, late at night. However, it wasn't always like it is now. There was a time when money wasn't scarce and people were able to buy the clothes Mother made, late at night. But, times have change, since the war is moving closer to Vietnam. Although no one really purchases anything, Ha's Mother still drops off the clothes at the market stalls, on the weekends, trying to collect on last weeks goods.


March 17

" If the price of eggs were not the price of rice, and the price of rice were not the price of gasoline, and the price of gasoline were not the price of gold, then of course Brother Khôi could continue hatching eggs."

In this poem, prices are proceeding to go higher. Which leaves the people in Vietnam to struggle just to survive the day.


📰Current News

March 21

The war is influencing the conversations that are occurring in Miss Xinh's class, on every Friday on the topic of current news. However, Miss Xinh finally say enough, since they were constantly are saying the same things over and over, sounding like a broken record. Constantly hearing how close the Communists have gotten to Saigon, how much prices have gone up since American Soldiers left, how many distant bombs were heard from the previous night.

" From now on Fridays will be for happy news."

No one has anything to say.

📖Feel Smart

Late March


In the mornings, Ha goes to the market to get food for her family. However, the prices have been increasing. Therefore, the family must be thrifty with their money and limit the amount of food they buy. Which makes it difficult to purchase the foods the family desires.

☀Two More Papayas

April 5

Two more papayas have began to grow from the tree. However those two green thumb-like papayas will transform in a mingled color of orange-yellow delights.

∆Unknown Father

∆Unknown Father

Every day

Ha does not quite know her father. However, Ha only knows whatever Mother tells her. He loved his children, that Ha knew for a fact, since he would get teary-eyed just by simply watching his children in their peaceful slumber. He loved stewed eels and paté chaud pasteries.

◉TV News

April 8

"Brother Quang races home from class, throws down his bicycle, exhausted, no longer able to afford gasoline for his moped."

A South Vietnam pilot bombed the presidential palace. Although, the pilot was from South Vietnam, afterward the pilot flew north and received a medal. For many years, the pilot has been a spy for the communists.


April 10

Ha gets to celebrate her actual birthday. Usually Ha receives roasted chicken, dried bamboo soup, and all of the pudding she can eat. However, this year, she receives banana tapioca, black sesame candy, and a story given by her mother.

🌠Birthday wishes

April 10


Ha wishes for many things. Some of those thing seem unrealistic and others seem simple. However, Ha keeps the wishes to herself, for she knows it may hurt Mother and her brothers.

Wish I could do what boys do and let the sun darken my skin, and scars grid my knees.
Wish I could let my hair grow...
Wish I could stay calm no matter what my brothers say.
Wish Father would come home so I can stop daydreaming that he will appear in my classroom in a white navy uniform and extend his hand toward me for all my classmates to see.
Mostly I wish Father would appear in our doorway and make mothers lips curl upward, lifting them from a permanent frown of worries.

✦A Day Downtown

April 12

The tears that stream down President Thiệu's face have no meaning. The tears are only for show. President Thiệu does not mean anything he says at the ceremony that's meant to comfort war wives. Even though, President Thiệu's talk is cheap, Mother and Ha still attend, however they go to receive five kilos of sugar, ten kilos of rice, and a small jug of vegetable oil.

⌘Twisting Twisting

April 13

Food is becoming even more scarce and Ha's mother is trying to ration the food as well as making sure that her children's bellies are full. Which is difficult, since there is not rice to last till the end of the month. Yam and manioc taste lovely blended with rice, Mother states. However Ha knows how the poor fill their children's bellies.

●Closed Too Soon

April 14

School is closed, a month too soon; everyone must return to their homes. However, Ha is not fond of this occurrence. She wants more time to finish a riddle. Since the first to solve it will receive the sweet potato plant that sprouts at the school's window.


April 15


April 15

The papaya tree is growing and now five papayas are the size of Ha's head, a knee, two elbows, and a thumb. Even though there still green, they are promising.

◬Bridge To Sea

◬Bridge To Sea

April 17

Uncle Son, Fathers best friend, visits Ha's home and discovers that the back door bypasses the navy checkpoint and leads directly to the port. However, Mother does not want to risk fleeing with her children on a boat.

⊖Should We?

April 17

Mother is contemplating, weather or not they should leave. Brother Quang states that they should not scramble away like rats. Brother Khoi says what if father comes home and finds his family gone? Although, two of the brothers say they must stay, Brother Vu says that they must go.


April 18

Before dawn Brother khoi leads Ha to the back garden. In his palm chirps a downy yellow fuzzed chick. He tells Ha No matter what mother decides, we are not to leave. I must protect my chick and you your papayas.

◒Quiet Decision

April 20

Mother says that Ha deserves to grow up were she doesn't have to worry about saving half a bite of sweet potato because Mother saw Ha rationing the food.

☂Early Monsoon

April 20

The sound of gunfire and bombs exploding like thunder, is not far away from Ha's home.

🌔The President Resigns

April 21

President Thieu announces, with tears in his eyes, that he can no longer able to be president. However, Mother thinks he is lying.

☁Watch Over Us

April 24

Uncle Son returns and tells the family to be ready to leave any day. How ever they must keep it a secret that way only navy families board the ships.

❒Crisscrossed Packs

April 26

As soon as Mother finishes the first bag of five Brother Khoi says to only make three. However, Mother changed his mind to leave with them.


April 27

In each pack everyone takes one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, three pairs of underwear, two shirts, sandals, toothbrush and paste, soap, ten palms of rice grains, three clumps of cooked rice, one choice. Ha chooses her doll

⁍Left Behind

April 27(evening)

Ten gold rimmed glasses, Brother Quang's report cards, vines of bougainvillea fully in bloom, vines of jasmine, a cowboy leather belt, a row of glass jars, two hooks and the hammock. These are just a few of the items left behind.

☔Wet and Crying

April 28

Brother Vu slices the papaya and black seeds spill like clusters of eyes.

⚡Sour backs

April 29 (afternoon)

Thousands of people found out about the navy ships ready to abandon the navy. However the family sticks together.

⚁One Mat Each

April 29 (sunset)

The family climbs on the ship and claims a space of two straw mats under the deck, enough for five to lie side by side. By sunset the space is only one straw mat. Bodies on the ship are cram together. Everyone knows the ship could sink, unable to hold the piles of bodies.

⌲In the Dark

April 29

Ha and the family are being moved to the ship next door, however they end up back on the first ship.

⌧Saigon is Gone

April 30

Mother is sea sick and a pilot appears and shout, the communists crashed their tanks into the presidential palace and planted on the roof a flag with one huge star... it's over Saigon is gone


May 1

Everyone is told to sip water only when we must so our bodies can stop needing. However, Ha has to use the bathroom. Ha and mother are allowed to use the commander's bathroom, where it is white and clean.


May 2

Ha nibbles on her last clump of cooked rice. Ha is very hungry since she begins to lean toward a family on the next mat.


May 3

The commander says it's safe enough for his men to cook. Morning noon and night everyone gets one clump of rice, small, medium, large, according to their height, and one cup of water no matter what.


May 7

Brother Quang begins English lessons. Brother Vu want them to do front kicks and back kicks at times adding one-two punches. Brother Khoi , monitors the lines for the bathrooms. Ha has to stay within Mother's sight when not in class.

◘Once Knew

May 12

Ha begins to think that land is something she once knew, memory from the past, like napping on a hammock, bathing without salt, watching Mother write, laughing for no reason, kicking up powdery dirt and wear nightclothes smelling of the sum.

🐥Brother Khoi's Secret

May 13

Neighbors complain about Brother Khoi's odor. Brother Khoi never takes of his jacket and clutches something in his left pocket. Finally Brother Vu hold Brother Khoi down and forces him to open his hand. Unfortunately, it was a chick, flattened with it's neck dangling off his palm. Brother Quang carries him above deck.

💫Last Respects

May 14

As a result of South Vietnam no longer existing, a women tried to throw herself overboard screaming that without a country she cannot live. A man stabbed himself in the heart with a toothbrush. Ha takes Brother Khoi to the back of the ship, she opens Mother's white handkerchief, and inside beholds Ha's mouse-bitten doll and the chick. Ha ties it into a bundle and gives it to the sea.

🍚One Engine

May 16

The ship only has on engine now. The commander decides the ration is now half a clump of rice only at morning and night, and one cup of water all day.

🌕The Moon

May 18

At nightfall females make their way up in single files and sponge-bathe behind curtains. Every night Mother points to the moon and says at least the moon remains unchanged.

·A Kiss

May 24

An American ship arrives closer to the ship. Boxes and boxes that withhold water and foods such as, oranges, apples, bananas, cold sweet bubbly drinks, chocolate drops and fruity gum pass onto the ship Ha is on.

ᵜGolden Fuzz

Ha plucks one golden hair off of the arm that hat helped them to board the boat. Although, Mother slapped Ha's hand Ha rolls the fuzzy souvenir between her thumb and finger and she couldn't help but smile.

█Tent City

May 28

Ha and the family has arrived in Guam. Brother Vu is head chef heating up cans of potatoes and beef, which taste like salty vomit. Ha and the family eat only canned fruit in thick syrup.

▬ Life in Waiting

June to early July

Camp workers teach everyone English in mornings and in the afternoons. Evenings Ha and the others get to themselves. They watch movies outdoors as Brother Quang translates into a microphone.

🐟 Nuoc Mam

July 1

Someone sent fish sauce to Guam and Ha is really thankful since it make everything more edible. The food has improved so much that the lines extend all the way to the beach.

💎Amethyst Ring

July 2

Mother wants to sell the ring, Father brought back from America, for needles and thread, fabric and sandals. Brother Quang and Ha say no.

🔠 Choose

July 4

Every family must decide where they want to go, Mother starts to write "Paris," until the man behind them whispered that there are more opportunities in America. Mother chooses

⌛Another Tent City

July to early August

Ha and her family are flown to Florida. The people in charge bring Saigon-famous singers to raise refugee spirits. In order for a family to leave an American must sponsor a family. Ha and her family have been waiting, however no luck.


August 7

A man comes into the camp looking to train a young man to be a mechanic and chooses Brother Quang. Mother is greatful since now the whole entire family has a sponsor.

🚬 Our Cowboy

August 8

The family's sponsor is tall and pig-bellied, black cowboy hat, tan cowboy boots, cigar smoking, teeth shining, red in face, and has golden hair. Ha loves him immediately.

💼Unpack and Repack

August 15

Ha's family lands in Alabama and are able to stay until they feel ready. They all unpack their two outfits each had brought. However, they repack since the eyes, lips, and arms of the wife are contorted into knots.

English Above All

August 16

Ha's family sleeps in the lowest level of the house where they never see the wife and they are not suppose to be seen by the neighbors. The wife isn't quite fond of Ha and her family.

First Rule

August 17

Brother Quang has been teaching Ha English, and he says in order for a noun to be plural, add an s, even if there is one already at the end.

" Whoever invented English must be in love with snakes."

American Chicken

August 20

The cowboy mainly brings food that is wrapped in plastic or canned. The cowboy brought a bucket of chicken. Although the cowboy likes the food Ha and her family don't. The family is used to fresh-killed chicken that eat grains and worms, which grows tight in texture, smelling of meadows and tasting sweet.

Out the Too-High Window

August 21

The neighborhood is clean, quiet, and consist of mats of grass are in front of every house, lonely sidewalks and vast windows.

Second Rule

August 22

Ha is getting better at hissing, she no longer spits. Ha knows to add an s to verbs acted by one person in the present tense, even if there's already an s sound.

American Address

August 24

The cowboy found a house for Ha and her family, and pays three months ahead. Mother couldn't believe his generosity until Brother Quang tells her that the American government gives money to sponsors, to ease the guilt of losing the war. Mother says to be grateful, even for the things Ha isn't fond of: the pink sofas, green chairs, plastic cover on a table, stained mattresses, old clothes, and unmatched dishes.

Letter Home

August 25

Mother writes to the North where Father's brother is at. It'll be the first time Father's brother is aware of his disappearance. Unless Father has told him he's safe.

Third Rule

Ha has learned to not add an s for certain nouns such as deer.

One deer, two deer.

Passing Time

August 27

Ha studies the dictionary, however she struggles to read in English.

Neigh Not Hee

August 29

Ha is now registered for school. When she walks to school she turns right where flowers big as dinner plates grow strangely blue. Turn left where purple fluffy wands grow on tall bushes. On the way home Ha asks if she could go on his horse, however Mr. Johnston doesn't have a horse and he has never ridden one either.


Created with images by Dean McCoy Photography - "This yammy is dead but lived a great life." • Mike Licht, - "Spinach" • Scot Nelson - "Papaya: Snow scale" • Archbob - "Late Afternoon sun at Castlewood" • Dean McCoy Photography - "This yammy is dead but lived a great life." • Ben_Kerckx - "moped moto bicycle" • Ben_Kerckx - "moped moto bicycle" • Unsplash - "vehicle motorcycle bike" • LindaH - "Doves" • wheat_in_your_hair - "when you're gone..." • Bodomi - "Plant." • sashafatcat - "plants" • desomurchu archive gallery - "Belgian Navy Ship Cork July 1973" • Tax Credits - "Cutting your Spending" • Hans - "feet shadow hispanic"

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