Uptown, Minneapolis, Minnesota by Hieu Minh Nguyen explores how life can pass you by, time continuing its march ever onwards. Nguyen details how he sometimes thinks about leaving, and changing his circumstances. But he never does, continuing in the same place year after year. The seasons seem to sneak up on him, changing before he can believe it. Deep down, there is always that desire to leave and seek other adventures.
Uptown, Minneapolis, Minnesota by Hieu Minh Nguyen begins by focusing on the seasons. It is now ‘May’ and the ‘winter’ is ‘over’, to the surprise of Nguyen. The seasons have changed quickly, with the poet not understanding how a new season has arrived already. He is unsettled by this thought, being absent-minded and ‘off guard today’. Nguyen is wondering if he could just get on a train and leave, but quickly dissuades himself for fear of ‘probably hat[ing]’ wherever he ended up. This quick tendency to derail his fantasies is the same concept that is keeping the poet in the same state, year after year. It seems that he always has something else binding him to the city he is in, ‘meet[ing] a friend for coffee’ for example. By Nguyen knows that deep down, there is a whole other life waiting for him in some new place, symbolized by the final line in which ‘there is someone, somehow, waiting for me.’
Nguyen’s Uptown, Minneapolis, Minnesota is comprised of 18 lines written in free verse. The lack of a strict poetic form reflects the free-will of the poet expresses within the poem. Although he could choose to leave at any moment, he feels there is always something holding him back. This self-inflicted constriction is also represented throughout the poem, with Nguyen frequently using caesura. Using caesura breaks up the meter of the poem, little breaks causing disruption to the metrical flow of the poem. Nguyen is using caesura to reflect the constraints he places on himself, his very language being stunted.
You can read the full poem here.
Uptown, Minneapolis, Minnesota Analysis
The poem begins by focusing on the current season, ‘it’s May’. The presence of an ‘ice cream truck’ serves two purposes within the poem. Firstly, it affirms the fact that it is actually ‘May’, with Nguyen only believing the month has arrived due to the truck coming to serve ice cream in the hot month. Although Nguyen is not sure that the month has already arrived, the ‘cream truck… is somehow certain’. Moreover, the symbol of an ‘ice cream truck’ often acts as a joyous symbol of summertime freedom. Yet, Nguyen feels no sense of relief or joy. The symbol of happiness is subverted by Nguyen, it actually serving to reflect his anxiety.
Winter is over, but Nguyen has a hard time believing this. The use of caesura, in the form of comma and hyphen, ‘sudden, over—‘, creates a metrical distruption, Nguyen’s disbelief permeating through the grammatical structure of the passage.
There is a conversational tone to the poem, Nguyen displaying the relates of everyday life within his city. The use of italics in the fourth line suggests that the ‘woman at the bank’ is speaking, telling Nguyen that it was ‘the worst one of my [her] life’. Nguyen doesn’t comment on this, with the quick change of topic perhaps suggesting that he doesn’t want to think about his own winter. It could be that the disbelief of winter being over is actually a mild shock, having survived his own terrible winter. The lack of response to the woman at the bank could also be Nguyen depicting the banalities of everyday life, one conversation only being remembered in part as he progresses with his day.
The harsh end stop after ‘it’s impossible to be prepared for everything.’, emphasize the reality of this statement. Nguyen wants to be ready for anything, but is seemingly caught off guard. This is furthered in the following lines in which he is caught ‘off guard’ by his phone vibrating. Nguyen is anxious, a tone of doubt settling over the poem.
Nguyen suggests that the voices he encounters in his city, perhaps representing those he knows well, are voices that ‘I don’t think I could possibly leave’. The lack of introduction into the idea of leaving suggests that it has been playing on Nguyen’s mind, the poet flitting between ideas and always coming back to the possibility of change and escape.
He dreams of boarding ‘a train headed somewhere’, the lack of specificity within ‘somewhere’ reflecting his overwhelming desire to escape – the ‘where’ is not important. Yet, Nguyen dissuades himself believing that ‘I’d probably hate’ the city he ends up in.
Nguyen pushes the idea of escape temporarily from his mind, ‘Crossing Lyndale to meet a friend for coffee’. He has to ‘maneuver around a hearse’, the symbol of death foreshadowing the fear that Nguyen will stay in a city he is unhappy in until his own death. The emptiness of the hearse could be emblematic of how Nguyen himself will one day will the hearse, dying in a city he longed to escape from.
Another season arrives, ‘Perhaps spring is here.’, the harsh end stop furthering Nguyen’s shock at time always passing. There is a half-hearted hope for things to improve, ‘Perhaps it will all be worth it’, the poet trying to fool himself into believing in a more positive future. Yet, the doubt suggested in ‘perhaps’ insinuates that Nguyen does not truly believe himself.
The final line relates again to the possibility of one day escaping the city he has lived in, ‘Even now, there is someone, somehow, waiting for me’. The use of caesura throughout the sentence, disrupting the meter of the line, suggests a hesitance. Even in fantasy, Nguyen is afraid to commit to his desire, resigning himself to staying in a city where life is passing him by.