April 14, 2013

Le Pham Le


Young couple with small child,
we arrive in San Francisco
one July afternoon,
summer grasses waving on the hills.
Why then do we feel
such a chill autumn wind?

Carrying one suitcase,
one affidavit of refugee status,
one outfit each
bought with money
loaned by a friend in the Malaysian camp,
at the end of the tunnel
of wasted youth, of obstacle after obstacle,
we arrive in America.

Our ragged clothes give us away
and our sponsors welcome us,
laughing, “You do look like refugees!”
At journey’s end,
uncertain, hesitant, we begin.

from Rattle #21, Summer 2004
Tribute to Vietnamese Poets


Le Pham Le: “Poetry has always been, for me, has always been a mythical world, yet a true paradise where I can imerse myself into an absolute state of peace and happiness.” (web)

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April 13, 2013

Du Thi Hoan


Whenever you pull out the desk drawer, you leave it open
Whenever you write, you never cap the pen
Oh my darling, you’re so absent-minded
My wild forest deer

Everything should have happened smoothly
We should have become husband and wife
If we hadn’t taken a chance
A chance like we took tonight
When after a peaceful time
Enjoying ourselves on a stone bench at the park
You didn’t button my shirt over my breasts

—Translated by Ho Anh Thai & Wayne Karlin

from Rattle #21, Summer 2004
Tribute to Vietnamese Poets

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April 12, 2013

Lam Thi My Da


Why only one
Why not two
One moon, one bloom in the sky
One elusive cereus
Exiled to earth

The moon, the bereft sky
Oh cereus, I sit and watch
One silent bloom
One yearning self

Do you know me
Noble one?
Come, let’s lift our glasses
Our wine is the moon

What we have, what we don’t—
Just this wine intoxicates
Here, cherished flower
Are two full glasses

I am alone tonight
With one lone cereus, one bloom
We reflect each other’s faces
Their sorrow and joy

Why only one
Why not two
Feeling seeps up
Through your deep roots

For a moment I wish to be
A night-blooming cereus
To mate with solitude
And make two

—Translated by Martha Collins and Thuy Dinh

from Rattle #21, Summer 2004
Tribute to Vietnamese Poets

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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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