Hoa Nguyen

I think I was ten when I first heard Question Mark and the Mysterian’s song “96 Tears”. I played that vinyl over and over, at least ninety six times. Why was it so compelling to me and why do I recall it now when I think about poem-making? 

Question Mark and the Mysterians were a band made up of Mexican Americans who grew up in Bay City, Michigan. They were considered the original garage band and their hit single “96 Tears” is credited for originating the punk rock movement. But I didn’t know any of that when I was ten. I think what I heard then and what I think I want from poems now is that multi-timbral sound, a sound like that of the farfisa organ. I want a reaching voice, a voice that reaches beyond my own voice like the ringing vibrations of Question Mark’s falsetto vocals. I want a bare-bones lyric, a little song of sadness and reprisal, of grief and redress.


96 Tears by Question Mark and the Mysterians




Conch shell a phone    asking
please don’t trade in pain
Sesame stix and canola in the
cup    egg drop soup    semicolon

The bent strings become another
voice like the lyric cheezits of
leash-walked alligators and today
was hamburgers made from

multiple cows all mixed with poems
Last week               Sloppy Joes
I tried on a white mink collar
Mango swung        whitey wins

Said  The Resistance doesn’t say Hello
then offer you       a nest of flowers




Hoa Nguyen is the author of four full-length collections of poetry including As Long As Trees Last, (Wave, 2012) and Red Juice, Poems 1998–2008 (Wave, 2014).  She lives in Toronto, teaches writing workshops, and curates a reading series.