MAI VAN PHAN
Van Phan was born in Ninh Binh, Red River Delta, North Vietnam in 1955.
He has been a driver, a soldier, a cook, a messenger, a car driver, a teacher etc.
He is a member of the Vietnam Writer’s Association. He won poetry awards
in the provincial and national competitions. His books include Giot Nang (Sun
Drop), Goi Xanh (Calling Green), Cau Nguyen Ban Mai (Morning Prayer), Nghi
Le Nhan Ten (Name Giving Ceremony), and Vach Nuoc (Water wattle). His
poems also appeared in more than 30 anthologies, including Fulcrum 3, Thi
Luan (Poem and Comment) Magazine (S. Korean), and many journals in
Vietnam, and magazines and Vietnamese-language websites abroad.
About The Translator:
Do Xuan Oanh grew up educating himself and became a jack of all trades.
He joined the revolution before 1945 and wrote the famous Nineteen August
song on the August 1945 General Uprising Day. He wrote many songs and
music works during the wars. He has also translated into Vietnamese many
American novels. For a while, he also joined the Vietnam Peace Committee
and Vietnam-US Society as its Vice-chairman and General Secretary. As a
people’s diplomat representing social organisations, he worked with the
Vietnam delegation in Vietnam-US Paris Peace Talks from 1968 to 1973.
He retired in 1990 to continue with music and translation works.
Rhythm tracing the path
Where shade buried deep the shade
And rot thirsty of a blaze
Sleepwalking steps on the stars
Still there the hobbling thin dew
Bitter leaves creeped thru burning coal
In breath pine leaf shrouded pine fruit
Someone stored luggage and clothing
Dark shadow crouched behind antiques
Still shivered with fear when called upon
Tears blurred the era
In absurd movement of earth
Prone to lift the dyke
White smoke whirled up
Fall fell from leaf layer
Deep grave open inside the breast
Appeared the circling avenue
Splashed so many roofs being turned up
Stain on lime wall where cobweb spinned
Dull inside the sound of knocks
Urged return to the doors
Ideas not arranged
Furious wind tore the hull apart, pulled away all intentions of having reached target. Crispy, dry tongues in banging position tangled and dragged and fluttered on the road. Affected swings, affected bobbing whose rhythm is changed unexpectedly by mad light spots gone swift in memory...there was a top in the pocket that still spun...and an oar that repeatedly dipped when the boat was laid on dry sand. Wind blowing from man to man left open every meaning. Who knows who had the intention to arrange those meditation as toys. Piled the ancient statue on a newly made table, no, it must be put beside the lamp. A pair of old shoes to be put in front of the mirror, no, under a secular tree. A child’s hand tried to free its dried fingers glued to each page of the book. Dry fish on the hook wriggled to plunge back into the lake. Turned all sides for one thing to gaze at another thing, feeling it was sensible while it seemed absurd.
Picking up a few dots of sunlight, pecking the way of community’s gastronomic culture. Compensated for the days of starvation. Trying hard to keep cool and courteous before dawn. All are yours, such a concept resounded vaguely in each jawbone motion. Penetrated of spirit until the heel, throat instantly transmitted password down to stomach, waiting for knee to tremble and repeat it. Ankles open wide, winced that feet might tread on twilight.
Only after a long sleep was it realized that a whole past had been stolen. On green grass over there, mountain peaks had been leveled, fences carefully plaited shrunk and hovered over the head. Eye of the lamp lit in muddy night and important look of the neighbor had turned to rot. On that green grass I was born and warmed by numerous concepts. Had been a self-sacrifice, twists and turns, respect, toadies, arrogance, flatteries, wrong claims, masturbation, sanctity, false accusation, sacredness...Grass stately rose up ahead to intimidate me.
Light off. The crowd grievously returned to the city. Deliberately and accurately. Moved ahead one thousand meters to meet the square, turned right three hundred meters to see the avenue, then a school, then a bookshop, then a few inns...They silently walked while talking to dark walls, dark electric poles, dark panels, dark bits of garbage...by dark languages. They followed one another under the dark sun, sinking deep into the past. Strange that through an empty space none among them could remember what had happened here.
Took a book and swam towards the sea. Fixed a knife on the ground then watered. Covered a blanket to attend wedding ceremony. Climbed alone on high hill and raised hand to speak. Played a trumpet tune to attend funeral of spider. Wrote one’s name filling the pages, here underlined there not. Wrapped hands on two poles of the bulb waiting for it to emit light. Whitewashed those walls not able to receive moonlight. Noted money serials existing in pocket, classified and numbered them in order. Hung one shoe and used the other to beat the rhythm. Raised toothbrush and calmly pressed trigger.
Huge ant-letters flocked on me, inconsiderately moved back and forth through body holes. Confusion, heap up, weighing...which made me perceive that ants were also killers. A way must be found to chase them away or make them line up. Only semantics could now control, but all concepts had been dimming. I tried to pronounce the word “dark” to call dark ants. Immediately ants of all kinds and colors gathered to make up the meaning of “flocked dark”. People said the river there had been sterilized. I cautiously bathed and washed from precious aromatic matters. As I waded, water turned my body black and blue then feathers grew. So half of my body under water became that of a bird. But twitter must escape through throat and tongue. Since then, my mouth constantly resisted inertia from the dark part submerged in water.
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