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


JUL 2006




                  DU TU LE





                       (translated by Thien Nhat Phuong & Tran Le Khanh)





how could you know I had dreams

flying over the Ha Nam – Ha Noi route

together with salt-laden boats

and bamboo-loaded barges

they carried my soul drifting along the river of Day

and the faithfulness of my mother

also had no bottom


how could you know I had dreams

awakened, I still imagined

a train had just departed

for Ha Dong

the place where my mother was born and grew up

then left for good with her husband.

My maternal village is still a mystery to me

Like silk threads strung over the sky

I tried many times but could never catch them


how could you know I had dreams

seeing Mother return

to cover me with a blanket

to stroke my hair with gentle pat

so many years disappeared behind us

but my mother could never believe

her son’s young hair could turn so white;

lines crisscross his dark forehead

his eyes are now blurry

(those clear eyes that in the old days followed my mother’s


whenever there was a market day)

these same eyes are now beaten by sun and rain.

She asked me why my hair went white

And why the veins surfaced on my wrinkled skin.

I asked Mom how was she doing,

my mother smiled,

her lips lined red with chewed betel leaves

she always looked sad like the day my dad left forever.


how could you know I had dreams

awakened, I still lingered in my childhood

on Tran Hung Dao street

the house numbered 1029

with some high trees in front

in Saigon, where some Chinese wearing shorts

pulled up their yellowish undershirts

and mumbled while exposing their fat bellies.


how could you know I had dreams

flying again and again over Tran Binh Trong street,

where every dawn I passed by

a Catholic church named Huyen Si

leading toward my school

there were benches

there were blackboards

where friendship blossomed for the first time,

thanks to this friendship I learned to love you


how could you know I had dreams

awakened, I still hear the ocean waves

murmuring somewhere

Hai Phong? Do Son? Vung Tau? Ha Tien? Guam?

The place where I lay under the sun naked

on one of the sand dunes

the place where a 15 years old girl named Thu

once attended French school, she told me in French

that I was her first love

while in the bushes, we embraced as lovers

Thu sadly asked where my mother was?


how could you know I had dreams

lining up in the morning for meals at Camp Pendleton

the place where shuttle buses regularly ran

to connect Processing Center with Camp One

a very thin girl sitting on the same bench

asked if I was the one who just came in a few days ago

she recited:

“congratulations to you on your new birthday,

candles of pain were burned to fill up your joy.”


the engine noises, the wind howling, the woodpecker


the laughs and cries,

the voices from the broadcast stations searching for relatives

and the panting breaths in the newly developed breast

of the girl

dissolved on the brink of the abyss.


I led her to the valley bottom

where by peacefully laid bunches of oak twigs beaten by

the wind

she mumbled the remaining sentences of the poem entitled

birthday, December

I asked why, at her age, she was prone to self-destruction

she smiled

a smile like the crack in a young fruit!

she answered me her childhood was just like that.


while passing by the dinner hall

I saw my girlfriend in line

waiting to bring her meal to the barrack

she looked as thin as a leaf pressed in a book

I learned later

that she was then pregnant for more than a month.


I wondered about the girl named Thao

did she still live in San Jose?

as for my girl friend

she was now married and raising my two children well.


how could you know I had dreams

repeating like a worn-out tape

with the abrupt and crackling sounds

like the short street of Ranchero Way

where cars need not turn back,

like the house with an immense garden

where many times my Mom sat at the foot of the lime tree

she used to ask:

“why is this tree full of limes?

beware of thieves, my child!”

like the young with rainy eyes,

and long stormy hair

who had left forever

leaving behind her curses.


how could you know I had dreams

returning to muddy Cau Ong Lanh market with its strong


the smell of rotten fish. Smell of mud. Smell of trash

the smell of agonizing bodies waiting for death

the smell of sweat. Smell of the senseless tears.

The smell of the sweater worn by the girl who carried Virgin



She lived a legendary life

Sustained by pages of letters

Rather than a life of reality.

The road with a coffee shop, open late at night;

Rumor said while novelist Le Van Truong was alive,

He called it the Frontier Inn.

The shop where I hung out most of my teenage life

With my friends

(many of them, when very young, died

like Hoai Lu, like Hoang Dinh Tap…)


the place where I returned

when my worn-out hair turned white

with the late tears of a young woman

embodying The Goddess of Mercy

that place where I missed the smell of Westminster street

which led toward the sea

the scent of hair soaked with the hospital smell, Lam,

the smell of trembling fingers at the base of a woman’s white


The smell of the woman’s tears

(the woman whom I like to call Huu)

the smell of the row of “gang” on a rainy day.

The smell of short hair

The smell of the beef noodle shop

Where I used to eat with my friends early in the morning

And the Chinese noodle restaurant not too far away.


how could you know I had dreams

of countless birds. And about mountains

the maple forest. Some old letters.

Nobody even bothers

To ask where am I?

Everybody is busy.

No one has spare time

To ask who am I?

And where do I live on this earth that is drying out

And why is life turning so dark so fast?


how could you know I had dreams

awakened, I still remembered

the day when my mother died in the hospital

she had not tasted neither a tiny noodle thread,

nor a bowl of beef noodle, nor a bowl of seafood noodle;

or even a boiled duck embryo

or a small piece of fried fish

and now, I eat them everyday, those fish and eggs

like the returning of Spring

like the Garden Grove Street

cutting through Magnolia

and through Brookhurst…


but my dear, everything has now changed

because you, as well as Mother, are no longer.


                                           DU TU LE



The Writers Post
the magazine of literature

& literature-in-translation,

founded 1999, based in the US.




Editorial note: Works published in this issue are simultaneously published in the printed Wordbridge magazine (ISSN: 1540-1723).


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