(ISSN: 1527-5467)
the magazine of Literature & Literature-in-translation.


JAN 2011







          a poem by  NGUYEN THI THANH BINH

                              translated by Nguyen Ngoc Bich



     Hola, city where no birds are found flying


Damn, I’ll have to leave again

Vietnam, my Vietnam has become a reality in which

golden dreams can no longer squeeze in

in early morning you’re full of expectations

but truth to say, all your dreams have been shot to pieces

even before they can open up

as if the sun is not there despite our pleas

unwilling to peep out

of the east

me too, I have also insistently

calculated this way and that

when dreams whether of the day or night

have all been exhausted

I know, in the end you too will have to disappear all

will have to take off in whichever way you can

despite all the depressing risks

here it seems everyone could end up bankrupt

even those trusting innocent pure-hearted shades of the trees

on the streets where much too many of them have been decapitated

with their names long ago replaced by others

well, we’ll just have to live with it

no one now cares to retain another

even when the latter just freshly comes back

the city goes on throwing straight

one after another pieces of sad rubbish at his face

no way to happen smelling it without getting dizzy

with the odor of night


even the winds seem to be exhausted

unwilling to escort those errors and mistakes

that rubbish… piles of them

from sources unknown

take turn squeezing in

muddy alleys and side streets of history

errors and mistakes unknowingly turned into mistakes and errors

mistakes and errors not deserving to be errors and mistakes

what lessons now for this damn whipping

rods, o why Vietnam is no longer a dream

for you, brother, you, sister or younger ones who have been growing

young rice plant fields

why should the patriotism of a small country’s citizen must draw down its eyelids

in the face of treason

yes, listen, listen to the waterfall tumbling down on the cascading stream

listen to the horses neighing pleading for freely speeding forward

please, o please do not go on playing blindman’s game

when a tiny speck of dust

falls into and obstructs this century

likely it will fly away by itself

for don’t we all need these flying away occasions, do we?

so that we can turn and turn

fly away together with the rest of mankind

turn and toss as we land somewhat like UFOs

on the information superhighway

the open space of media

the super… TGVs

disappearing in air

o what crimes has our nation committed

to get back in return all these terrible remunerations…

all of them in the name of this and that

impossible to figure out in whose name or in which cause

why for once can’t we do it in the name of man

even though man here is very small indeed

somewhat like ants who know nothing but hang their heads down going back and forth

please have pity looking at the path of Vietnamese black ants

you’ll see their patient expectations

the hopes of common, black-clad folks

short-necked, tiny voices

isn’t that true, we need to live and breathe somewhat like a man’s shape

and in accordance with the mind of animals endowed with a brain

true, I sometimes also wish that I have lost

my brain, my memory machine

my nationality, my breath even

a clean wiping out of an ancestor

a city, a street

  the homeland even

  o so it turns out that somewhere in our soul

  not anywhere else, there is a truth just like that

  mornings where I will sadly confess:

  dawns here are no longer where one finds birds chirping

  birdsongs echoing in the old garden

  lightly touching the door panels

  wakening the still sleepy school children of yesteryear

  hola, city, why did you kill all these smiles of a fresh bedewed morn

  is that right, that the birds have gone in search of a crystal sun dome

  why here in our homeland / there’s no longer the warbling of a nightingale

  why do I come back here blowing forever

  flight paths

  where bird wings no longer flap

  whether visible or invisible

  on the bell towers in public parks on melancholy power lines

  with the birds silenced the teachings of Christ or Buddha suddenly get

  drowned out

  isn’t that right, when even Buddha or Christ quietly turn into fossils who

  can we turn to and pray?

  could it be that we are condemned to impotence in the hands of

  these bandits

  who are hanging by a wire unable to breathe

  yet they are incapable of seeing that life is gradually reaching the end of

  the road


  o sure, they still breathe and bare their teeth like monkeys

  monkeys condemned to live in cages

  who can only make stifled noises

  as they go after the ripe bananas in the hands of their insensitive handler

  in the zoo

  oh, birds who have disappeared long ago

  why do you still leave here traces of a horizon of illusory freedoms

  hola, what city that I come too which is now devoid of flying birds

  where warblers springtime is gone for good

  birds that roam the vast open sky

  damn, I am afraid that I have to go on getting away

  damn damn damn

  to hell with this evil!

  showing their necks / baring their chests / eyes piercingly open

  they challenge your clean cut long daggers

  unnamed sentences

  and unsentenced prisoners

  do they still exist, those bird songs full of folksong lyricism

  in each one of our Vietnamese hearts

  they say: “what is there in a pastoral life to rejoice about?”

  “Of course, that’s true,” I ask, astonished: “Then why obstruct all the

  paths and alleys by

     which I had tried to come back?”
  the dry cough of someone heartless, not a good person: “I told you,” he

  said,   “to go, go

     away, get out of my sight.  Don’t you dare to stay and cause… a smile

  for others.”

  actually, it’s to cause someone to live but how can a life be called

  one without a smile?

  for sad to say, when I leave it does not mean that I turn my back on

  Hue, Saigon, Hanoi,

     or Nha Trang the city by the sea…

  come to think of it, the birds don’t have anywhere

  that they can fit in

  those wolf-hearted and beastly hunters

  don’t easily let them thin-winged birds

  they can’t fill up those three-span bags

  when the Swiss banks are always ready to weigh down with their

  ill-gotten dollars

  when the city

  goes on buzzing with flies and dust, awful, terrifying dust

  rolling with the mouthpieces with the human-faced masks

  and me getting my throat rash with yelling

  when down there

  there are springs dyed yellow with each flame they just burned

  setting the stage for a surprise party… of smoke rising

  rising… calling to the horizon

  smoke rising instead of a flight pattern

  of birds

  for you, brother, and you sister and younger ones

  when you fumble your way back to the old sea

  o romantic salmons

  forever embracing

  each wave where they were born…


                 From the collection

                Vẫn ngần ấy câu thiếu một vần(g)

                (“Still Those Very Same Verses Minus a Rhyme/a Halo”)

                Translated by Nguyễn Ngọc Bích

                Springfield, VA-San Antonio, TX

                November 2-4, 2010


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Copyright © Nguyen Ngoc Bich & The Writers Post 2009.

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