GRASS CUTTING IN A TEMPLE GARDEN (Collected Poems) - Mai Văn Phấn. Translated from Vietnamese by Nhat-Lang Le. Edited by Susan Blanshard

Mai Văn Phấn

Translated from Vietnamese by Nhat-Lang Le

Edited by Susan Blanshard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRASS CUTTING IN A TEMPLE GARDEN

 

 

 

 


Translator - Poet Nhat-Lang Le

 

 

 

 


Poet Susan Blanshard


 

 

 

 

On Pole Tops

 

 

My tongue is tied

to a pole top

so each time I speak

 

the tongue has to contract

pulling this obese body up

I thrash like a piece of cloth tossing in strong winds.

 

As I think about my tongue’s pain

a butterfly forms on a stone ledge

Its trembling rosy wings shake the stone embankment

Then a billboard advertising a carbonated power drink

Boasts high quality ingredients for performance

From another fanciful place

A girl twists her back inside a calendar cover

She smiles and holds her hand up for a long time.

 

I exist because of the butterfly, billboard and unknown girl

They speak for me

Now the root of my tongue is an abyss.

 

But why do they exist on their own?

Maybe their tongues are hung from other pole tops.

 

 

 

 

Notes Taken at the Great Wall

 

 

Clouds are stacked like heavy boulders on my shoulders

My eyes blurring in the blowing sands

which fill my lungs with every breath

 

Is the Great Wall still being built?

In the air the voice of a eunuch blasts out a decree

Anyone who creates poetry while carrying boulders

will be beaten until they spew out blood

End of decree!

 

Looking up I see a sagging face

cold hands, leaden eyes, gravel voice

The roof of a beacon tower in crimson red

bares the shape of a bloody blue dragon saber on his neck

 

I bend my back to cart sunlight away

I thrust my legs to cart wind away

Anything to get near that flower

waving lively in strong wind.

 

Your Majesty / Dear Sir / Reporting to Comrade...

This lowly officer / base citizen / humble self...

will fulfill his responsibilities

 

Whether this is the top of sky

or bottom of abyss

I only feel your burning whip lash on my back

 

On gray stone, travelers’ sweat

blooms into poppies.

 

 

 

 

And You! Stand Out There!

 

 

Tonight

many strange things.

 

My sleep drenched with poisonous wine

My memories tangled

TV signals lost

My open eyelids stretched over two rotten eggs

            two dead snails agape

            two clues’ holes removed

 

Someone whispers in my ear:

Stay awake and wait to see moss covering the sky

And waters swallowing the last stars.

 

Tonight

Snakes, centipedes and scorpions overflow into cities

But don’t you worry!

Every house is built blockhouse-style

No one goes out on the streets in the dark.

 

After midnight, in a neighboring house

an intellectual wakes up and laughs out loud

confesses that whatever he says during the day are just jokes

Some jokes go too far!

 

Someone is hiding in the trees

waiting for falling leaves to turn into money

Better stash them away before dawn

Or all will be confiscated or eaten by ants.

 

Oh well

Let me lie in ambush here

and wake up at five in the morning.

 

 

 

 

Looking Closely

 

 

Inside the trash can there is a fish skeleton
stripped bare

Still held in its swimming position
next to a disposable chopping board

All are crisscrossed with blood.

A wool hat still warm
with a faint smell of dandruff shampoo
The hat’s wearer doesn’t suffer from hair fungus.

 

A sharp pair of scissors. A thermos. A pen...
Some blank sheets of paper
next to the minutes from a meeting
with names of chairperson, secretary and representatives from above

“Today, at 17:30, in…
Total: 32
Absent: 04, with reasons...”

 

Inside the trash can

a paper kite on top of a bouquet,

a few pairs of shoes.
The wind still blows unaffected through kite flutes.

 

One printed line on the trash can:
“There is no pollution here. Please rest assured!”

 

 

 

 

Utter Lucidity

 

 

I use my thoughts to direct a rat
to emerge from a narrow sewer
stroll into a trash can
lie down and die
If trash trucks carry dead rats to their burial places
this city will get rid of rats permanently.

A new way of thinking:
Scoop water from Hải Phòng harbour

Water becomes self-purified
Bottles roll by themselves into restaurants and hotels
The poor come to those places to collect fees.

 

Celebrated as a phenomenon
featured on magazine covers
I feasted until I passed out.

 

Are you people guiding me home?
Is that someone on a bike going into a narrow alley
or thousands of actors performing in a square?

 

No need to prop yourself up and talk about trust and hope
passing through a tight slit of doorway
Ocean wind shooting cool fresh arrows at you.

 

 

 

 

Turning with the Roof

 

 

I wake up at night in the room. Wooden furniture bristling with wood ear fungus. A statue sinks into a flabby clump of soil. A hand-held fan opens for the last time and closes down into a bamboo tube. In the dark, voices of deceased artisans are echoing:

 

- Let’s turn with the roof and wake all objects up!

 

I turn with the bottles, animal figures, light bulbs... through the lips of a glassblower, through trembling letters watching paper powder sinking in bleach. Ink drops gather then spread like an oil stain. A formal suit of clothes slouches. This is the time to reflect on the nature of silk and cotton plants. Darkness swallows all stale food, without any concept of culinary culture. Teas fragrance returns to the forest. Water howls with rage inside an earthenware pot with a broken base.

 

The turning objects cannot stop themselves. The turning trash can gets stuck to a photograph frame, a ceiling fan, the telephone cords. A pair of underpants gets stuck between crockery cabinet and exercise machine. An exhausted broom, mosquito repellent canister, and several CDs end up inside the refrigerator. A fish stopped breathing near the end of its journey to the window. Little mice drown swimming across a frying pan. Washer detergent powder turns and sprinkles itself on vegetables, knives, cutting board, and the altar. A dipping cup turns together with one piece of tofu. A jar of hot chilli sauce flings itself upside down. And the second hand turns much slower than the hour hand.

 

Everybody wakes up while turning. They still have time to drink water and wash their face. Each picks a random object. And quickly place their feet on the Starting line.

 

 

 

 

Hearing About a Friend’s House Being Burglarized

 

for the poet Nguyễn Quang Thiều

 

 

Perhaps the burglar climbed stealthily through the window when you were tired. Your thick moustache no longer turned up at the corner of your mouth, your eyes open suddenly watering, glaring and turning blood red. Your breath puffing furiously, forming a tall tower over the town of Hà Đông. I want to become a private detective, to immediately catch the one who snuck into your house. Now look how that cloud forms a human shape just as it enters the blue sky. Who knows if the burglar snuck into your house in that same position. Now he is disguised as a decent person, and that playful cloud is still flying up there. Heat spreads out relentlessly. The burglar is like a poker stirring up a red-hot furnace. Fire blows through windows, key holes, vents... like an angry person throwing bars of silver into the night, or a multitude of fingers raised up to press on a giant acupressure point. He drops down along the mangrove tree roots, slips through each white peony flower that is exhaling its fragrance. The burglar doesn’t know he is left with invisible sparks of fire and bars of silver.

 

 

 

 

Teaching the Children

 

 

The children in my neighborhood know so much about adults; they catch ailments of old age, prematurely. At night they gather and whisper in deserted gardens. Some stand guard while others dig tunnels to bury old worn-out things and prepare for eventualities... They panic when the sky changes color at dusk, when waves splash, when fruits split open... They copy each other with diets to prevent high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prostate cancer...seldom seen crying and screaming in tantrums, yet most choke with tears, “Children’s tears flow inward!” Some of us adults team up to perform tricks for children, play merchants, build castles, pull paper boats over tile floors… We fight mock battles and feign being dead. The children pick leaves and put them on the noses of those who pretend to be dead. The leaves suddenly wither and turn yellow. The confident high-spirited one says, “If on the road for one day you go, a sieve of wisdom you learn.” They all laugh when we stand up. I become stupefied and stagger back to my place. I totter on my feet in awkward steps, like a child.

 

 

 

 

A Dream Retold

 

 

Last night I dreamed of being forced to carry out an espionage mission, the double agent kind, referred to as being loyal to two sides. Unintentionally I am involved in a raid, so I have to become one of them. It’s not for the money. I remember my passwords, know how to cut off a tail, tap a wire, or send secret messages via telegraph… Strangely, the telegraph still exists, that primitive means of communication from the beginning of the last century. I also dream that I have grown so old under another regime. Each morning I carry a cane and walk in the streets to listen to the wind and smile. Then unknowingly, I am discovered. Someone spots my name among a pile of waste paper. This dead document declares that I am a spy loyal to twenty sides. Apparently some nasty person has deliberately added a zero after the number two. How, in such a remote rural region then, are there twenty regimes? Is my rural region the setting for a battle of wit? A communication center? Or a hot spot? I am derided by my offspring and incur their contempt like a man of no character. My honor smeared with no chance for clarification. Before committing suicide, I want to cry. But naturally crying is a very difficult act for an old man. I opt to console an infant who has just woken up in his tightly wrapped diapers.

 

 

 

 

Bitter Potion

 

(For Ngọc Trâm)

 

 

As fever is burning you on its pyre

I become ash too

The bitter potion cannot wait any more

Holding your hand

                              I pour

My grief into the empty bowl...

 

O’ daughter! As the mist falls

My hardship arches across the cold night

For frail flowers

To give off scent needs bitter roots.

 

Sweat becomes callused hands

Spring pours into the medicine bowl

My old age weeps with mute tears

While truth bursts out for no reason.


I wonder what you eat in your dreams

I put the bowl on the window

When you grow up to my age now

At the bottom of the bowl

There may still be a storm.

 

 

 

 

On the Way Up to the Pagoda

 

 

As I climb up the slope to the pagoda gate

Your face suddenly appears as Kwan Yin

 

Carrying a brown sac

Long neck, slack robe, white ring...

Many halos

 

Under a clear bright sky

In my mind’s eye, I bend down low

 

My body is empty

I know only the dry knocking of a rattle

… Om Mani Padme Hum

 

Winds rise among thorny bushes along the road

I hear the clamor of wild animals running deep in the forest

The cracking of branches breaking.

 

 

 

 

From Our Home

 

 

You gather things according to their seasons

a bunch of grapefruit flowers for autumn

plums for spring

 

We are the pulse of air, deep abyss, breasts of soil

we choose warm places to set our furniture

uncluttered places to put our tables and chairs

 

We drop our worries at the dinner table

with chopsticks we pick vegetables from the field afar

the fish bites on the bait inside our clay pot

 

We love the footprints near the rice stubble

deep wells, streams and rivers, ponds and puddles

 

Don't sit in the room too long

go out into the field, out to the riverbank

where leaves grow green and fish wriggle

 

Bite on fresh pineapple or sweet orange

and let juice drop on brown soil.

 

 

 

 

Release Your Grasp for It to Dawn

 

 

I.

 

You dream of a boat

Floating

You can see to the bottom

Imagine I am coming near

 

A light beam from an asteroid

A canopy of tall trees, stars

Break apart when the boat steers

 

I imagine myself

Holding your hand

Tucking your blanket

Fondling each lock of your hair


 

 

You can rest assured

For the boat has been tightly fastened to shore

When currents flow

 

Here’s a row of bollards

Tight ropes

Taut muscles

Robust arms

I hold my breath

Firmly and fully

Immobilized...

 

You still dream of guarding the boat

Waking up to pour moonlight into dawn.

 

II.

 

You can’t sleep under a shaking canopy

A twig has just fallen onto the sheet-metal roof

The sound of a broken fruit rolling on the old tiled floor

 

The raging wind breaks any water surface

A path stretches out to grasp this skirt of forest

 

Your eyes open into deep night as the furnace glows bright

Swelling with aromas of grilled corn and glutinous rice

The sound of boiling water in your memory

Reverberates until early morning

 

Trying to lie flat next to the bed’s edge

You hold your breath waiting for a quiet moment

Embracing an invisible dove

You wait until the earth becomes peaceful

And release your grasp for it to dawn.

 

III.

 

Flowers glisten in the rain

When you miss me

Leaves grow dark green

 

When you call me under the rosewood (*) tree

You have been crying

Because the rain water is too clear

The tree’s canopy lies under too vast a sky

This year’s blooming season is different

 

I know a dragonfly

On its flight keeps

Images of flowers in its eyes

 

In this peaceful morning

The tree stub has turned the other way

 

Restless

And numb in the rain

Fingers

And calves are snow-white.

 

IV.

 

Swimming only ten meters from shore

I am afraid of drowning

And getting lost deep inside the ocean

 

The blue waves this afternoon are furious

Flashing their blades of water high

Wild in their menacing beauty

 

I want to send many wishes

And my desire for freedom

Into the open space of weather forecasts

 

I sit on a sandy beach

Filled with happiness

As I watch the purple flowers from afar

Bow down

Trembling in the wind.

 

V.

 

A narrow stream of light on that paved road is an infinitely deep doorway leading to our past lives.

In a previous life you and I were a pair of water snakes slithering through grass into a lake, swimming together side by side. The tides that swept the foothills left their mark through a thousand years. Two raging dinosaurs in a hot desert. A pair of eagles mating while free falling in the air. Two braided trees amidst a storm. Thunder and lightning struck and collapsed a summit and left a sunset burn...

Here comes the chariot of autumn. The grinding sounds of chain wheels on windy tree tops. Torrents of tiers of leaves falling.

My chest jolts as if trying to withhold an explosive shell, a drop of water, and a flower bud on that paved road alight.

 

___________

(*) A valuable wood tree, with clusters of white flowers blooming in March and April in Hanoi

 

 

 

 

Traces of Dawn

 

 

The horizon is broken by razor-sharp waves

Dawn billows where boundaries are smeared

Your thousand eyes turn around in cubist space

Palpitating sentiments are floating in dew.

 

Don’t drift near clouds drenched in gasoline

Even as you hide your ten fiery fingers

The wind’s aromatic tongues slip into my ears

Draping the wilderness with dreams of grass.

 

My rapturous flesh already bears your footsteps

Making your nails on earth more resounding

Each of my joints aches to modulate a woodwind voice

While I feel your lips blowing over my head.

 

 

 

 

A Tree’s Dream

 

 

@

 

I stand next to a tree in my coat. It’s colder in late winter rain. Leaves stack up. I imagine the tree is dreaming about its roots walking underground. It dreams about its stump being no longer at its source. One morning the earth wakes up to see trees walking among us.

 

@

 

I am occupied, taking care of trees, expecting a day when they grow strong and open their lush, green canopies where I stand, and encroach the sky. Birds land onto our vast property, hopping from branch to branch, singing loudly without finding a way out. You put your hand on me. Leaves dream of protecting flowers and fruits.

 

@

 

Each day I am reborn from a canopy, learn to make plans, so I can begin a new life every morning. There have been times when I return as a gaunt old man, only to bloom again next to the trees. Passionate as a kid playing under a shady tree, I look up every time I feel happy or sad.

 

@

 

Abandoning their shells, the seeds bask in dew and sunlight. The center of the earth sucks down clusters of young roots. Seed and leaves cover the ground. Winds and storms may break, bugs may gnaw through, birds may prey on, and hoes and pickaxes may accidently grind creatures that spawn miles of greenery, which can grow into millennial giants. Life is born as craving; we bury our soft tongues into each other, as the vast sky swoops down to fill each seed tightly.

 

@

 

Beneficial fruits. With a fleeting bitterness. Dangle in the air. Roll on grass. Fall into dreams of passionate giving. Bathe in earth’s darkness. Closing my eyes, I imagine a ripe fruit drops into my body, a glossy yellow juice overflows, nurtures me into a hearty seed, fresh and fragrant inside. I imagine it’s you, picking me up, sniffing me, and biting into my skin. How you refrain from breaking me. It is you who guard me. And you who wait for a drizzle of rain before sowing me into warm earth.

 

 

 

 

Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden

 

 

A sharp blade hacks sideways

Close to the grass stubs

 

Souls still stuck

To the grass

Stretch out their arms

 

Grass piled high

To be served as cattle food

Or dried

 

Any souls not allowed to fly

Are held by a circle of hard-heartedness

All pain of slaughtering

Lingers in the strong smell of grass milk.

 

 

 

 

Spectrum

 

*

Whoever passed through here, made the landscape glow. I arrive at the end of the street, next to a lake, where the light from a row of trees recedes to make space for the early morning sun. As I listen to dried leaves rolling quietly, gathering into heaps, I know many lights traversed the ground last night. There is a lonely aura from the inside of a pit, which doesn’t belong. I pick up a pebble and throw it hard towards a tree. The pebble bounces back from a wall, an electrical post, a sidewalk... Its sparkling and zigzagging strokes reveal the first manifestation of a new day.

 

*

A bird lands on the canopy, tucks away light in its breast and beak, and begins to call its friends in a crystal, singing voice. A needle, shiny glimmer in the workers eyes, after it has done stitching, laid neatly inside a box; thinks of loose cotton seeds, delicate threads, then seems to accepts its fate, as junk. Tearing off the calendar page at the day’s end, I paste it on my memory wall. It comes unstuck, floating on an imaginary river. Slapped by waves, it sticks back to other calendar pages. I sketch three calendar images on each corner of a painting with the same color scale, then poke vents of different sizes to let the light from the inside… escape.

 

*

Like people with cataracts under a beautiful sky, we are wrong to guess the color of a carpenter bee flapping its wings, or fathom the exact shapes of flowers and fruit, or guess the distance a nightingale’s call travels before it hits a stone wall, to size an outsize fish by the splashing sound it makes as it tries to break apart a garden pond... Each morning as soon as we wake, we fall into each other’s trap, eat each other’s venom... This thought suddenly occurs when I am surrounded by fear and anxiety. I stand up and lean on a dark, bruised tree. I breathe heavily. My heart beats. Blood rushes up the smooth green leaves.


*

A bird approaches the lake surface. I wave my hand, ladle up, then realize that water does not retain anything (or I think so at the moment)! I make some gestures to make the bird aware: cupping my hands and calling, looking in one direction, in several directions. Weaving my fingers like intersecting swords and arrows. Stretching my arms to glide. Stamping my feet. Throwing away a fistful of soil. My face turns from angry, to happy, sad, serious, dull... Suddenly the bird swoops down to the water, then flies up high. It flies into a sky that holds another lake.

 

*

I see a lamp as a flower just bloomed, will-o’-the-wisp lights, wild fire flames... My chest expands; my nerves stretch up to touch the night. My thinly plated body lights up with connecting bands, rhombuses, ellipses and cubes. Emerging parts move in a cubic way. The night, salty with inclining sea, fills my mouth, overflows my eyelids. The oceanic pressure lapping on my body is solely the dream of people in agony, or surprising things... when you wake up at dawn.

 

*

As daylight recedes, everything around us falls into darkness. Dark fields hold dark rice. A dark tide draws a school of dark fish. A dark voice sings to dark background music. A dark classroom, misled by a dark syllabus. Dark files conceal dark material. Dark boulevards lead to a dark square. A military parade boasts dark weapons. A dark hand releases a dark dove... From today, I will save and store light away, gather and hoard light, accumulate and refract light, cherish and fight for light, revere and restrict light, love and steal light, purify and reach out in light...

 

*

Dawn spreads her thin layer of paint on the ground. Darkness leaves his stains here and there, in tree shades, under bridges, inside downward-hanging bells, in closed rooms, along underground sewers flowing through the city... It takes cover in our bodies, within our memories, ears, blood and beating hearts. Places sunken, hidden and deep, are dark with dangerous traps set... I join the crowd as they hurry upward, climbing on rooftops, crossing bridges, perching on boat bows... It is almost high noon. I quickly seize the moment to stand on any table or chair, to dangle from a tree, or to hold onto a gate. I need to increase my height with anything, books, a cushion, pieces of scrap paper. Mismatching sandals and clothes stack themselves up to reach the abundant light.

 

 

 

 

Silence

 

 

A thousand dharmas come back to one, where does one go?

A ZEN KOAN

 

 

1.

 

A page

Opens territories of letters

Forests and mountains

Rivers and lakes

Roads of letters

 

Holding the book

I

I am a letter

 

The letter strokes are my rhythmic breath

My upturning palms

My slash of black hair

My yellow skin

 

The light on the page

Reduces the world

And me

Into one.

 

2.

 

A small stream in the mountain

Flows steadily

Into a lake without a sound

 

Fish swim

Water remains at the same level

A kingfisher

Still perches

On a nearby tree top

 

At the throat of the outpouring stream

Waves gently expand in circles

And fade

 

The lake bottom is infinitely silent

As the mountain moves with the water.

 

3.

 

A stream of light is surrounding

Me

At the foot of the altar tower

 

Drawing near to my father’s face

(He was 3 years gone)

Drawing near to my grandmother’s face

(She was 27 years gone)

 

My father has recovered from hand trembles

My grandmother no longer stoops

 

Each of them teaches me how to remember

A way to forget

 

I am transparent

 

As I leave

Holding in my hand

A flower.

 

4.

 

A table with four legs

A flat surface

 

Place it on waves

The ground doesn’t yield

It flies like fog

Is light as a cloud

Rustles like leaves

 

I close my eyes

 

The teacher is grading

Giving me two points… ten points…

Even a zero

On top of my head.

 

5.

 

An egg

Warm under

Its brooding mother’s

Wings

 

I sleep soundly in the mountain air

Tree shades

Water that pounds rice

Deer footsteps

 

Lying inside the eggshell

I gradually take the form of ants

Fowl and poultry

 

Like so many animals

I grow up on

Dreams of early sunlight

Of rains

Of stars falling

Down to earth

 

Shaking off the shell of light

I open my eyes and stand up.

 

6.

 

A black fruit

Ripened high in the sky

Where lotuses

And chrysanthemums are blooming

 

My hair and shoulders are white

My stalk

Begins to turn yellow

 

Black areas are shrinking

Vanishing quickly

 

A hand

Buries me in a pit

 

Needing no water

I grow as a sapling in the desert.

 

7.

 

Between the circle of light around me

And the void of darkness

Stands a wall of nepal paper

 

I contemplate

Making a drawing on it

 

From darkness

Someone is writing on one side of the paper

A name for my drawing.

 

8.

 

Bird calls, a dream, falling drops of water…

Draw vertical lines

 

A voice, sadness, kisses…

Draw horizontal lines

 

The intersecting lines

Are sparkles of light

Which show you the way sometimes

And blind you other times

 

I settle down

To pull the lines further apart.

 

9.

 

I open my chakras (*)

Light does not fill up my body

Darkness still centers on my forehead

And my back

 

I open my eyes to watch a burning fire

 

Fire is the gate

For one to leave concealment and darkness

To return to a cool place

 

I watch!

 

I swallow the fire with my eyes

I destroy concealment and darkness

With my eyes.

 

_____________

(*) Energy points inside human bodies, according to Hindu and tantric traditions.

 

10.

 

The laughing doves

Trapped in a net

Next to a decoy bird

Their eyes are sewn shut

 

But they are never in pain!

 

They cry in the hands of a bird-killer

Incarcerated in prison cells

They are plucked and bled

But they are never in pain!

 

They are roasted golden

Inside a greasy pan

 

But they are never in pain!

 

My thoughts turn incoherent

 

I open my eyes to watch the field just harvested

See laughing doves collecting rice

 

They come in flocks

Collecting rice.

 

11.

 

I am a ceramic vase opening its mouth

To the outside world

 

Inside me

A garden is incubating seedlings

Early sunlight soaking

Each plant root

 

On a river bank

My feet touch the tide ebbing beneath

On a rising tide

Fish and shrimps just let go

Without swimming

A boat floats with no one paddling

 

I cannot sit for long

Water tapping on the sides of this boat

Birds calling from high above

 

Someone knocks hard

On the side of the vase.

 

12.

 

A spider web is spun

Between two ends of thunder

Within a bullet’s echo

An electric hammer’s thud

A train’s screeching jolt

The sound of an asteroid falling on earth

 

A shiny thread is stretched out

In countless fleeting

Disappearing sounds

 

Only the spider turns back

And spins more threads.

 

13.

 

Dawn’s light is thrown across my chest

When I begin to meditate

 

One strip of sunlight is the gate

To begin a journey

 

I silently become sand or a stone

Inane in weather

And night’s pristine darkness

 

No longer dry

No longer sharp

I am equal to

And mixing into the world

 

As I return after a long journey

That strip of sunlight is still there.

 

14.

 

A bridge spanning two riverbanks

With a steel frame

Is built with dark bricks

 

Their insides remain red through many years

 

When bricks are laid next to each other

The road is smooth

 

With heavy human footsteps

Or sounds of animals’ hooves

The bridge begins to vibrate

 

I sit in lotus position (*)  

Under the bridge the water is still

 

I know the current is still flowing.

 

__________

(*)  A cross-legged sitting position in which the feet are placed on opposing thighs.

 

15.

 

A black bird sinks in

A black roof

A black ground

And colorless light

 

All is whitening like milk.

 

I am burning like a tree trunk

Hollowed out by insects

The bird is wounded

The ground is convulsing

All vegetation is poisoned

 

I gather light

And collect tears

To stream through our wounds

 

All is whitening like milk.

 

16.

 

I am in zazen next to a flower

All fragrance lingers

Near the ground

 

The sky turns over my head

I am turning into an obstacle

 

Things around me growing

Getting older

 

The flower in the middle

Erects a glass post

Marking today

Now

 

Past

And future

Look at each other from two sides

 

The flower represents Buddha’s lips.

 

17.

 

A grandiose drop of water

Lying in a deep well

 

Concerto No. 1 in D minor by J.S. Bach

Falls into the well

Small drops of water

Carry green light

 

The green of rice seedlings

Seeds

Banana buds

A field of young mulberry

 

It’s the season of chlorophyll

Born out of water drops

In the shape of green eggs

 

Swelling

Overflowing the ground.

 

18.

 

Through the candle

And into another realm

 

Eyes open

In the shadow of a wall

 

I am at the crossroads

Many systems of reference

Many souls animate

Inanimate

And unnamed

 

The more awareness is filled with sound

And color perceptions

 

The more one is still

And free in all things

 

19.

 

Light

Splits a tree trunk

 

Yellow on one side

Dark purple on the other

 

Bark is smooth on one side

Rough on the other

 

Sap is different on two sides

White

Black

 

I close my eyes and breathe

The tree is growing

 

Both halves of the tree have the same color flowers

Blooming in crowds before a hatchet blade of light.

 

20.

 

A glass of water

Is placed in front of the candle

 

Colorless light

Dropped from above

Shows the way for water to settle

 

The more transparent I become

 

Spike trap

Black arrows

Escape

From my soles and palms.

 

21.

 

I am lost in the world of toys

Boy and girl dolls

Smile next to a fish made of wool

A wooden rooster

Stands firmly on one foot

A paper dolphin

Carries a tiny globe on its head

 

All are immobile

In nothingness

The halos of dreams

Of humanities’ children

Those who are moving

 

In order to be natural, equal, innocent

I am made of wool, paper, wood…

 

22.

 

Sounds of wind chimes

Fall in the night as sparkling seeds

 

I hardly realize

Tree trunks have just grown

The garden has shrunk into an arm’s embrace

 

Another lullaby of chimes

I sit up

 

Drop a coop around me to stop the wind

And a myriad of sounds

 

The chimes are strung

On top of the sky.

 

23.

 

Only in silence I realize

That I am in zazen with many others

Mixing auras

From other spaces

 

I heal my own wounds

But others

Are treating unknown patients

 

The patients don’t know

They are going through auras.

 

24.

 

Two objects on the table

A clock

A pebble paperweight

 

I cannot read a book

Or think through any subject

 

My mind is vague

As I stare at each object a long time

 

I turn one of them

Adjust the space between

 

I see a single trail of light

Between the clock and the pebble.

 

25.

 

One by one

A flower’s petals fall

 

Fragrance

Is light and pure

 

I shut the door tight

Not letting anyone in

 

Nor slanting sunlight

Nor blowing wind

 

Where Buddha has just appeared

Within the fleeting space

Between the receptacle and the ground.

 

26.

 

The ring-ouzel which just flew away

Has perfect color harmony

 

A gray bird

Two white stripes on its cheeks

One black spot from breast to chin

 

I draw a picture of the bird

And color patiently

 

Not like that!

Still not like that!

 

I keep sitting here

Looking at the flying birds

And coloring.

 

27.

 

My body blends into darkness

Only my hands remain alight

 

My palms turn up

Like two lake surfaces

Two open bowls

Two winter caves

The deep pits of two stars

The mouths of two fish…

 

One cannot find in the universe

Pairs

Like two hands

Joining

 

Because each star, bowl

Fish, cave, lake…

Connects to a separate darkness.

 

28.

 

At dusk

Or probably at dawn

An albatross

Lands on a barrier pike

 

Seen from afar it is only black

 

Like a paper cut painting

Or a single block statue with stand

 

The sea is a calm brown

I focus my thoughts

On walking on water

Without leaving any footprints

 

Behind me

The bird no longer flies.

 

29.

 

On the way to shore

Lies a sand plot

Oyster shells

Bow in the lapping waves

 

Shapes of seagulls flying

Or just landing on the horizon

Are like contours

Of a person lying face down

 

Wind blowing from the sea

Sticks me to my shirt

Then inflates the fabric

 

My body inside

Is the core

The bitter seed

Of a half ripe fruit.

 

30.

 

A garden

A ditch

A quiet and transparent

Space

 

A butterfly

Red and lonely

Glides

And flutters

 

It lands on a tree top

 

No

It is not lonely

 

The butterfly is a flower

From this space, this ditch, and this garden…

 

It lands

To shut down time

For the flower to become a bud.

 

31.

 

The sky is like a bow

I am in the middle of it

 

Wind howls

From the top of my head

Through my soles

 

I breathe earth’s generous air

Into the deep sea

 

I stretch the bow

For trees to press against mountainous profiles

To compress dawn into night

 

Like a pine tree

Clutching earth

Stretches its branches to the sky

 

My heart aimed at the target

Energy concentrated in my belly

 

I release the bow

The arrow and I fly parallel to the earth’s surface.

 

32.

 

A stone slab emerges

Its chunk still buried in a pit

 

A bird

The sky hides its flight path

 

Fire

Burns in longing eyes

 

A martial artist draws his sword

When the bird finishes its sketch on sky

Earth’s soul permeates the stone slab

Humans turn into coal by their longing.

 

33.

 

My father’s hand

Is in my shadow

While I am mixing tea

 

Water is boiling

Steaming the kitchen

Tea leaves soaked in earthenware pot

 

I serve tea to my father

The deep tea fragrance is blending

With the aglaia fragrance from the garden

A whiff of my father’s sweat

 

Holding the earthenware cup

My father’s hand dry and rough

Inside my palms.

 

34.

 

New day on the coast

The waves have receded

Leaving behind a clean stone slab

 

Somebody has come to step

And sit on it

Bird feces

And dust settling on it

 

At night

Water rises again and washes it

 

The sea

Is patient

In years.

 

35.

 

The wind upon leaving

Imprisoned me here

With a leaf

 

Looking at the door frame and window bars

I know I cannot break

The leaf’s veins

 

If only its yellow spots

Spread out fast

But moisture is breathing

Into green chlorophyll areas

 

One should not overreact

In spring.

 

36.

 

I am a trinket

 

Made of metal bars

Bent and attached

With paper fastened to my head

 

Just out of love

Or anger

The alloy has been bent

 

Last night in a dream

That trinket

Grew up fast

Seed to leaf.

 

37.

 

I get lost in a fabric store

Rolls of fabrics piled up like logs

I use adeptness to sneak through

 

This is deep brown

Blue

That is orange

Delicate white

Bordeaux red…

 

Any color

Is more than enough

For one person to wear throughout his life

 

I walk

Holding a glass of water

My only concern is

Spilling on any step

 

38.

 

I am vegetation

Light from my previous life

Draws on a white canvas

 

My body is immobilized

In a group of sheaths

Waiting for roots to penetrate from either side

 

Once withering

Once thriving

Both are common experiences in this light.

 

39.

 

I stack up five pebbles

And draw circles of waves around them

 

Today I realize

I was wrong

 

From the five pebbles

Straight lines are radiating

 

I will not stack

Things upon each other any more

In my field of vision.

 

40.

 

The river runs dry

We walk across its bed

 

When water rises

We will probably be notified.

 

41.

 

I sketch on paper

Thin pencil lines

Downward strokes make leaves

Upward ones are flowers.

 

42.

 

I sit under the cloak of Light

At the very bottom

 

When He walks

His cloak touches me

Sometimes from above

Sometimes from below

 

I am dyed with light when waking up

But when sleeping

I leave it up to dreams

 

There are dreams

Where you cannot find darkness.

 

43.

 

I sit down

And drop flowers on water

 

Releasing them

On a surface vast

And clear

 

Bells

Ring through my body

Into the depth of water

 

Dong!

I sink

Then emerge again.

 

44.

 

On top of the hill

I see inside the ground

A flaming red eye

Looking at the sky

 

The earth

In the shape of an eye

 

Flaming red

Floating away…

Floating…

 

45.

 

The bowl of water and I are white

The ground an ancient yellow

The field in front

And the bell

Dark yellow

 

The tabby cat in the yard

Has white patches on its back

 

I ring the yellow

Bell

A white color spreads

 

The cat walks softly

Shaking sunlight all over the ground

 

It walks until

it is only a white spot.

 

 

 

 

Biography of Nhat-Lang Le:

 

Nhat-Lang Le was born in 1969 in Saigon, emigrated with his family to France in 1983, and moved to the U.S. in 1985. He has a B.A. in Linguistics and Computer Science from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Nhat-Lang Le worked for more than a decade as a software programmer, before switching careers to work as a news translator and editor for a Vietnamese media organization based in the Little Saigon area of Southern California. His poems and translations have appeared in the printed magazines Thế Kỷ 21, Văn Học and Văn, and the literary e-zines Tiền Vệ (tienve.org) and Da Màu (damau.org). He has been on Da Mau’s editorial staff since 2007.

 

 

 

 

Biography of Susan Blanshard:

 

Susan Blanshard was born in Hampshire, England. She is an internationally acclaimed Poet, Essayist, and Best-selling Author. Susan has written more than 35 books. She has edited translations for 7 international volumes of poetry. Selected poetry and essays are published in The World’s Literary Magazine, Projected Letters, Six Bricks Press, Arabesque Magazine, Lotus International Women’s Magazine, ICORN International Cities of Refuge. PEN International Women Writers’ Magazine. PEN International Writers Committee The Fourth Anthology, Our Voice, Nuestra Voz, Notre Voix. Her literary essays The Pillow Book, Four Recipes, The Traveler, Orientation, published in Arts And Culture, Lotus International Magazine, Hanoi. Her collected poems Running the Deserts, Midnight Mojave were included in the Vaani 9.69 seconds, a collection of short stories and poems dedicated to the London Olympics 2012. Selected new poetry from Poems from the Alley, have been translated into Bengali to be included in three upcoming literary reviews. She has also published book-length poetic prose: Sheetstone: Memoir for a Lover, Sleeping with the Artist, Fragments of the Human Heart, Memoir of Love and Art: Honey in My Blood. Susan is member of PEN Interntional Womens Writers and a Foundation Member of Asian Pacific Writers APW. She lived in Hanoi for eight years and has written two non-fiction travel books on The Old Quarter of Hanoi. She is married to a visual artist and writer. They have two adult children. Susan resides near Sydney, Australia where she is currently completing a three book work of fiction.




Biography of Mai Văn Phấn:


Vietnamese poet Mai Văn Phấn was born 1955 in Ninh Bình, Red River Delta in North Vietnam. Currently, he is living and writing poems in Hải Phòng city. He has won several national literary awards of Vietnam. He has published 24 poetry books and 1 book "Critiques–Essays", 10 poetry books of those are published and released in foreign countries.

 

• “Giọt nắng” (“Drops of Sunlight”. Poetry book. Hải Phòng Union of Literature and Arts Associations, 1992);

• “Gọi xanh” (“Calling to the Blue”. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 1995);

• “Cầu nguyện ban mai” (“Prayers to Dawn”. Poetry book. Hải Phòng Publishing House, 1997);

• “Nghi lễ nhận tên” (“Ritual of Naming”. Poetry book. Hải Phòng Publishing House, 1999);

• “Người cùng thời” (“People of the Era”, Hải Phòng Publishing House, 1999);

• “Vách nước” (“Water Wall”. Poetry book. Hải Phòng Publishing House, 2003);

• “Hôm sau” (“The Day After”. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2009);

• “và đột nhiên gió thổi” (“and Suddenly the Wind Blows”. Poetry book. Literature Publishing House, 2009);

• “Bầu trời không mái che” (Vietnamese-only version of “Firmament Without Roof Cover". Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2010);

• “Thơ tuyển Mai Văn Phấn” (Mai Văn Phấn: Selected Poems - Essays and the Interviews, Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2011);

• “hoa giấu mặt” (“hidden-face Flower”. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2012);

• “Bầu trời không mái che / Firmament Without Roof Cover” (bilingual 2nd edition. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2012);

• “Vừa sinh ra ở đó” (“Just Born There”. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2013);

• “Những hạt giống của đêm và ngày / Seeds of Night and Day” (bilingual Vietnamese-English. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2013);

• “A Ciel Ouvert / Firmament Without Roof Cover” (bilingual Vietnamese-French. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2014);

• “Buông tay cho trời rạng / Out of the Dark” (bilingual Vietnamese-English. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2013);

• “Ra vườn chùa xem cắt cỏ / Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden” (bilingual Vietnamese-English. Poetry book. Page Addie Press of United Kingdom Australia, 2014);

• “Zanore në vesë / Vowels in The Dew” (Poetry book. BOTIMET M&B, Albania, 2014);

• “บุษบาซ่อนหน้า / hidden face flower / hoa giấu mặt” (Poetry book. Artist's House, Thailand, 2014);

• “Yên Tử Dağının Çiçeği” (“The Flower of Mount Yên Tử”. Poetry book. ŞİİRDEN YAYINCILIK, Turkey, 2015);

• "The Selected Poems of Mai Văn Phấn" (Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2015);

• “thả” (“Letting Go”. Poetry book. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2015);

• “आलाप प्रतिलाप” (“Echo of the Aalap”. Poetry book. Publishing House of Kritya, India, 2016);

• “Không gian khác” (“Another Dimension”. Critiques–Essays. Publishing House of The Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2016);

• “Два крыла / Đôi cánh” (“Two Wings”. Bilingual Vietnamese-Russian. Poetry book. “Нонпарелъ” – Publishing House of Мoscow, 2016);...

 

Poems of Mai Văn Phấn are translated into 22 languages, including: English, French, Russian, Spanish, German, Swedish, Albanian, Serbian, Turkish, Uzbek, Kazakh, Slovak, Rumanian, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese,  Hindi (India), Bengali (India), Korean, Indonesian, Thai, Nepalese.

 

Simultaneously on the book distribution network of Amazon, thecollections “Firmament Without Roof Cover”, “Seeds of Night and Day”, “Out Of The Dark”, “Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden”, “A Ciel Ouvert” waspublished and exclusively released in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and European countries by Page Addie Press of the UK.

 

December 2012, the English collection titled “Firmament without Roof Cover” became one of the 100 best-selling poetry books of Amazon.

 

June 2014, the three collections in Vietnamese and English titled “Ra vườn chùa xem cắt cỏ” (“Grass Cutting in a Temple Garden”) and “Những hạt giống của đêm và ngày / Seeds of Nights and Day” as well as his Vietnamese-French collection titled “Bầu trời không mái che” (“A Ciel Ouvert/ Firmament without Roof Cover”) were among the top ten of the 100 best-selling poetry collections from Asia on Amazon.

 

Poems of Mai Văn Phấn were introduced in newspapers and magazines of Sweden, New Zealand, the UK, the USA, Canada, Australia, India, Albania, Turkey, South Korea, Hongkong, Indonesia and Thailand, etc.



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