December 15, 2016

John Balaban


Hazed with heat and harvest dust
the air swam with flying husks
as men whacked rice sheaves into bins
and all across the sunstruck fields
red flags hung from bamboo poles.
Beyond the last treeline on the horizon
beyond the coconut palms and eucalyptus
out in the moon zone puckered by bombs
the dead earth where no one ventures,
the boys found it, foolish boys
riding buffaloes in craterlands
where at night bombs thump and ghosts howl.
A green patch on the raw earth.
And now they’ve led the farmers here,
the kerchiefed women in baggy pants,
the men with sickles and flails, children
herding ducks with switches-all
staring from a crater berm; silent:
In that dead place the weeds had formed a man
where someone died and fertilized the earth, with flesh
and blood, with tears, with longing for loved ones.
No scrap remained; not even a buckle
survived the monsoons, just a green creature,
a viney man, supine, with posies for eyes,
butterflies for buttons, a lily for a tongue.
Now when huddled asleep together
the farmers hear a rustly footfall
as the leaf-man rises and stumbles to them.

from Rattle #13, Summer 2000
Tribute to Soldier Poets


For more on John Balaban, visit his website.

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April 11, 2013

Phan Tien Duat


You were our village master at Vietnamese chess.

Now you play it Western style.

Rooks and knights and pawns look all the same,

Yet you lose at every try.

Somehow the bishop is not a bishop

And the king over there by the queen

calls up rules you should remember

and rules you should forget

on this odd board of strange moves.

So you lose but keep on playing

at Vietnamese and Western chess.

Look! Over in the garden a yellow butterfly

flaps along in unpredictable paths.

—Translated by John Balaban

from Rattle #21, Summer 2004
Tribute to Vietnamese Poets

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