Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Nhã Thuyên

A SOUND OF FLAPPING WINGS

the road back to Hồ market pulses up a warm earth smell in the unrelenting rain of this Twelfth Month, interminable, a stranger stumbling along, rain blears the fingers, earth sinks away beneath slimy wet feet, my steps here pulled forth by some line of poetry out of time, showing up to market on an off-day, take it you're from somewhere or other place eh little lady, how about the old ferry is it still coming around these days Gramp, thanks to Google i know this stretch of the levee once held a ferry crossing, not since that bridge’s finished who's gonna be calling on any more ferryman, so how long’ve you been here whittling chopsticks then Gramp, i get a flash of the old man from some tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has since dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, wind nuzzles into the stall’s thatched roof in this market under the levee keeping for ages the thousands of buying and selling steps in its mute grounds, wind threads the purpled veins of shiny brown hands aged and whittling away, wind blushes a rosiness into paper-thin skin who knows when will be fresh again, wind crawls along the delicate grain of bamboo, older the bamboo better the stick, village bamboo, i split by hand, soaked, and whittled each stick, must be fifty years i’ve been here, must be a thousand markets i've seen, though handmade’s never as even as machinemade isn’t that so Gramp, and with the bamboo hedging our levee lately thinning out, i chat away as if having memorized every last corner of the levee, every grassy bank, every clutch of bamboo, just these baby steps of reacquainting feet, so how long’ve you been away little lady, me oh just here and there but nearly vanished from view, how’s about i spin you around past all your old spots, the brother driving a moto taxi calling himself Chu Du the rambler beneath a sea-almond tree whose sinewy branches pierce the thatched roof wedges himself into conversation, doesn’t know my steps aren’t the retracing kind, doesn’t know that here all paths i roam for the first time, just fill up my tank and belly that’s enough, the sister selling drinks down the way passes brother moto taxi a hot cup of green tea to place in my hands, in my hands i roll the steaming cup having passed now between how many hands, breath its vapor into my eyes, so what’s the little lady planning to buy at the market here, i don’t know what to buy, what can be bought, what is possible to buy, this cup of green tea for three thousand đồng who would call that shopping, thick in the market unknown faces alchemize familiar, thick in the market i breathe in a human air, thick in the market i contract a countryside’s contagious air, thick in the market i envision a grandpa a grandma an auntie an uncle a sister a brother, thick in the market i crave dressing up in vines of the gourd’s tight-knit kith every time i pass through a village on Việt soil with my Việt utterances unlocalized not disclosing an origin, my North Việt homeland full of cities within villages, villages within cities, any village behind clutches of bamboo is so, when blood sheds the skin turns pale, as i dress up in the interlacing roots of Kambuja Mranma Siam Muang Lao Southern Waters Fragrant Harbor Philip’s Land Oman Ayra Singapura Melayu Land Nippon Koryŏ and my Greater Việt of the Peaceful South with an English voice neither British nor American, my Asian homeland where every place murmurs its intimate and strange vernaculars, recognizing each other even when divided by speech, any country beyond its border seems so, all are relatives born from the same sac of one hundred eggs, when blood sheds the skin turns pale, i pluck at random roots of a family tree to relieve the pitied fate of having strayed, taking a pair of serving chopsticks that the Grampa here displays on his flax blanket, stroking them, my body abruptly aches, for the serving sticks that were grandma, mom, the serving sticks at the head of the pot, the ones eating at the meal’s end, the ones pronouncing fairness at the gathering tray, the ones counting the number of mouths, the ones conceding to ravenous kids, the ones sharing with old folks, the ones bearing hunger, the ones seeking a beloved thousands of miles away, was he just glancing up at me in amusement or simply continuing to work his busy hands, older the bamboo better the stick you know miss, the more you use’m the better their complexion, i look to the levee, someone on the distant bank stumbles along, rain stumbles down falling on hair, saturating hands, blurring face, the levee bamboo lately thinning out, what do i plan to buy at this market, don’t know what to buy, what can be bought, what is possible to buy, what is possible to carry with these stumbling steps that keep taking me who knows where, fearing the heaviness of carrying anything more, i look down at the old fingers, follow the grain of bamboo shaping the chopstick, must be more’n fifty years already, must be i’ve seen to the sticks that feed countless couples of the village, i get a flash of the man from some tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, i rev with inarticulate babble, Gramp you’re that guy that young peasant from the old fairy tale who has to find a bamboo tree one hundred segments long to whittle all the village’s chopsticks so he can marry the rich man’s daughter, the old man peels back a black-toothed smile, i don’t want nostalgia’s intoxication, i fear decorating this happy couplehood with tragic dreams, what do i plan to buy here, what is possible to buy here trudging along this stumbling road in search of the market, the market road of earthy rain interminably falling, the road home just as interminable, i’ve strayed from home, forgotten the illusion of enveloping harmony, forgotten how it was with mom at my side, forgotten her old serving sticks, forgotten to teach the little ones how to count people, count chopsticks, forgotten to teach the little ones the hundreds of rules that mom of the rice paddies drilled into my first tale of life beside her tray, remember that chopsticks come in pairs, that chopsticks don’t stand alone, remember to measure them so they match, that eating sticks are not to be shared, remember to sit with enough space between so you don’t clatter with your neighbor, those first fumbling lessons of holding the sticks, the lesson to eat like a bird, so the belly knows hunger, so the mouth knows taste, so the hands know to place which pieces on your beloved’s plate, so the eyes know the good match, chopsticks are a testament of a person’s heart, the road back to a tale of childhood just as interminable, i’ve strayed from home, forgotten the illusion, forgotten how it was with mom at my side, forgotten her old serving sticks, older the bamboo better the sticks, the voice of the old Grampa is bleary in the hard falling rain, surely all the chopsticks you’ve whittled in your life would add up to a tree of a hundred segments though, his leisurely blackened teeth, must be more’n a hundred little lady, but the question is who’s gonna whittle the sticks for my funeral, my body abruptly aches, i’d forgotten the time my eldest brother frantically whittled the pair of flowering chopsticks for dad’s funeral bowl of rice and egg, the chopsticks stumble in my hands again, again in my first tale of life, i descend the channels of mom into life, i descend the channels of life with mom no longer at my side, the road anywhere interminable all the same, unnerved by those tragic dreams, i resist the quiver of nostalgia, i should buy some thing, should pay for some thing, should carry along some thing, ten pairs of bamboo chopsticks for fifteen thousand đồng who would call that shopping, ten pairs of bamboo chopsticks perhaps just to be burdened by one more useless drop out of time, but i should buy some thing, just to snip the cord and leave this market under the levee, should be able to pick myself up, should flap the wings to some other village, a different region of strange and intimate vernaculars, should let myself be dragged along by some line of poetry out of time lost in a different tale, a different tale, a different mistake, to pluck the vines of the gourd’s tight-knit kith, a different interlacing of relatives, i undulate, is the bundle too heavy to carry, what of the intertwining dreams, what of the sheltering roof, what of the accumulating firewood, a shared pot of rice, what of childhood’s tale, what of the homecoming day beside mom’s rice tray, how long have i strayed from this place, i get a flash of myself from a tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has since dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, the wind gasps over the levee, this stranger stumbling along, the bleary wet fingers sink into slipping earth, rain you are there unrelenting on the right bank, blinding mist on the left, a pale white length of curtain unfurls across golden green patches of plants otherworldly in this season of buds in their nurturing brown cases, season of newborn worms rolling in the womb of a damp earth, of orphaned souls who alchemize familiar, of souls who contract the warm airs of incense, of souls who breathe in a contagious human air, floating in aimless anxious hope for a homeland, creatures living and dead as blood sheds the skin turns pale, how long have i been flying, my flapping wings above the levee panicked in the fierce wind falling rain, through lonely villages, hamlets, towns, my flapping wings bleary in rain, undulating in wind, my mud splattered wings coated in slippery cold, my wings slowly collapse, becoming an earth-burrowing worm, becoming the grave-vigiling grass, as if just passing a dock, as if there’s a ferryman still holding out for someone to want to cross a river

VAN WAAR HET KLAPPEN VAN VLEUGELS

de weg naar de Ho-markt geurt naar warme grond in de stromende regen van de Twaalfde Maand, oneindig, de vreemdeling strompelt langs, drijfnatte vingers, geklonterde aarde aan plakkende voeten, een of andere vervlogen versregel volgend breng ik mijn stappen hier, verlaten is de markt vandaag, je komt vast van ver meisje, is het veertje naar het dorp aan de overkant er nog opa, dankzij Google weet ik dat die hier ooit was, wie roept nog naar de veerman sinds de brug klaar is, sinds wanneer al zit u hier eetstokjes te snijden opa, plots zie ik de oude man in tijden van sprookjes, van een vervlogen versregel, nu zijn alle dingen van andere tijden, alle vergissingen van andere tijden, alle tijden niet meer dan tijden van vergissingen, de wind sluipt onder het strodak van de marktstal aan de voet van de dijk, stille grond de eeuwige bewaarder van de tienduizend stappen van handel, de wind streelt de donkerblauwe aderen van de glimmende bruine bejaarde polijstende handen, de wind kleurt de vliesdunne huid rozig wie weet wanneer opnieuw vers, de wind kruipt langs de scherp getekende bamboenerven, hoe ouder de bamboe hoe beter de stokken, bamboe van het dorp, elk stokje splitsen weken en polijsten mijn handen, wellicht al vijftig jaar, wellicht al duizend markten, handwerk is niet regelmatig als machinewerk toch opa, de bamboehaag langs de dijk van ons dorp dunt de laatste tijd wat uit, ik klets maar door alsof ik elk plekje, elke graspol, elk bamboebosje langs de rivier van buiten ken, alsof ik nu slechts tastend stapjes zet voor een hernieuwde kennismaking, hoe lang was je dan weg uit het dorp meisje, ik was hier en daar maar steeds uit zicht opa, en als ik je dan langs al je oude plekjes loods, brengt broer motor-taxi die zich Reiziger noemt verlokkend in van onder de bloot door het strodak stekende pezige takken van de zee-amandelboom, onwetend dat mijn stappen niet die van terugkeer zijn, dat ik hier op elk pad voor het eerst ben, mijn tank en buik te vullen volstaat, zus drankverkoopster plaatst een kopje hete groene thee in mijn handen via de zijne, ik draai het kopje dat door wie weet hoeveel handen is gegaan, laat de stoom naar mijn ogen wasemen, wat ben je van plan op deze markt te kopen, ik weet niet wat te kopen, wat ik kan kopen, wat mogelijk is te kopen, wie telt een kopje groene thee van drieduizend đồng als handel, op de markt raken vreemde gezichten plots vertrouwd, raak ik besmet met de geur van mensen, met de geur van de streek, op de markt meen ik opa’s oma’s tantes ooms zussen broers te hebben, op de markt verlang ik naar mijn verwikkeling in kruipplanten uit alle dorpen waar ik langs kom op de Vietnamese grond met mijn accentloze spraak die geen oorsprong verraadt, op mijn geboortegrond Noord-Vietnam zijn volop steden in dorpen, dorpen in steden, achter bamboehagen is elk dorp een kloppende ader waarin bloed vloeit dat het hart doet breken, vervlochten ben ik met Kampuchea Birma Siam Lao de Zuidelijke Zeeën de Geurige Haven het Filipsland Oman Ayra Singapura Malakka Nippon Koryŏ als Annam Groot Việt met mijn Brits noch Amerikaans accent, overal in mijn Aziatisch moederland ritselen vreemde intieme volkstalen, elkaar herkennend zelfs gescheiden door hun spraak, voorbij de grenzen zijn landen als verwanten afkomstig uit dezelfde zak met eieren, het hart breekt wanneer het bloed vloeit, ik hou een toevallige stengel vast en verlicht mijn droevig lot te zijn verdwaald van huis, ik pak een groot paar stokjes van het juteweefsel waarop de oude man ze toont, streel ze, mijn lijf doet plots zeer, de grote stokjes zijn mijn oma mijn mama, de grote stokjes blijven bij de rijstpan, wachten tot het laatste hapje, zorgen voor gerechtigheid rond het blad van samenzijn, tellen monden, staan af aan ongeduldige kinderen, delen rijst met ouderen, verdragen de honger, zoeken de geliefde op tienduizend mijl, heeft de oude man doorgewerkt met zijn handen of mij een oogwenk bekeken, hoe ouder de bamboe hoe beter de stokjes meisje, hoe langer gebruikt hoe gladder hun aanblik, ik bezie de lange dijk, iemand strompelt bovenlangs, hoog en laag stroomt de regen over het haar, verzwaart de handen, vervaagt het gezicht, de bamboehaag langs de dijk van ons dorp dunt de laatste tijd wat uit, wat ben ik van plan te kopen op deze markt, ik weet nog niet wat te kopen, wat ik kan kopen, wat mogelijk is te kopen, wat ik kan dragen met struikelende stappen die me wie weet waar naartoe brengen, ik ben bang dat alles wat ik extra draag te zwaar is, ik bekijk de oude vingers, volg de scherp getekende nerven op de stokjes die hun vorm krijgen, wellicht al meer dan vijftig jaar meisje, wellicht heb ik voor duizend echtparen van het dorp stokjes gemaakt, plots zie ik de oude man in tijden van sprookjes, van de vervlogen versregel, nu zijn alle dingen van andere tijden, alle vergissingen van andere tijden, alle tijden niet meer dan tijden van vergissingen, al rillend bazel ik, opa u bent vast de jongeman die de aloude bamboeboom van honderd kootjes zocht om voor het hele dorp stokjes te snijden zodat hij met de rijkaardsdochter kon trouwen, lachend toont de oude man zijn zwartgetinte tanden, ik wil mij niet laten opjagen door nostalgie, ik vrees mijn verbeelding van tragische dromen over echtparen, wat ben ik van plan hier te kopen, wat kan ik hier kopen gestrompeld op zoek naar de markt, oneindig is die weg geurend naar warme grond in de stromende regen, even oneindig als de weg naar huis, ik ben verdwaald van huis, de droom van samenzijn vergeten, mama heb ik niet meer aan mijn zijde, vergeten ben ik haar aloude grote stokjes uit mijn jeugd, vergeten ben ik de kleintjes te leren mensen te tellen, stokjes te tellen, ik ben vergeten hen de honderden regels te leren die ik van mama uit het rijstveld naast het dienblad heb geleerd aan het begin van mijn leven, denk er om stokjes staan per paar, stokjes staan niet alleen, sorteer ze op maat, deel ze niet, zit uit elkaar en raak niet die van je buur, de eerste lessen van onhandig vasthouden ben ik vergeten, te eten als een vogel, dan kent de buik honger, de mond goede smaak, weten de handen aan je geliefde te serveren, zoeken de ogen het passende paar, stokjes polsen het hart, oneindig is de weg terug naar de jeugd, verdwaald ben ik van huis, de droom ben ik vergeten, mama heb ik niet meer aan mijn zijde, haar aloude grote stokjes uit mijn jeugd ben ik vergeten, hoe ouder de bamboe hoe beter de stokjes, de stem van de oude man vervliegt in de stromende regen, samen gelegd vormen de door u gesneden stokjes vast een bamboeboom van honderd kootjes, lachend toont de oude man zijn zwartgetinte tanden, het moeten er meer dan honderd zijn meisje, maar wie snijdt de stokjes voor mijn begrafenis, mijn lijf doet plots zeer, vergeten was ik het moment dat mijn oudste broer haastig de bloemen in de stokjes sneed voor de rijst met ei bij de begrafenis van mijn papa, opnieuw hou ik de stokjes ongelijk vast, opnieuw ben ik aan het begin van mijn leven, uit mijn mama kwam ik er, zonder haar ga ik door het leven, elke weg is oneindig, ik vrees tragische dromen, ik weersta de gekte van nostalgie, ik moet iets kopen, moet voor iets betalen, moet iets meenemen, wie telt een tiental stokjes van vijftienduizend đồng als handel, zijn ze geen extra last van lang vervlogen nutteloosheid, ik moet iets kopen, slechts om mij te ontrukken aan de markt aan de voet van de dijk, om mijzelf te herpakken, mijn vleugels uit te slaan naar een volgend dorp, een streek met andere vreemde intieme volkstalen, me door een andere vervlogen versregel te laten meeslepen, door een andere tijd, een andere vergissing, een andere verwikkeling van kruipplanten, een andere vervlechting van familiebanden, mijn stappen golven voort, is het bundeltje stokjes niet te zwaar om te dragen, waar de dromen verstrengelen, waar het dak van thuis, waar het brandhout bijeen ligt, een gedeelde rijstpan, waar de tijd van de jeugd, waar de terugkeer naar mama’s dienblad, hoe lang ben ik verdwaald van deze plek, plots zie ik mijzelf in tijden van sprookjes, van de vervlogen versregel, nu zijn alle dingen van andere tijden, alle vergissingen van andere tijden, alle tijden niet meer dan tijden van vergissingen, het waait langs de oneindige dijk, de vreemdeling struikelt, drijfnat plakkende vingers laten geklonterde aarde vallen, de regen slaat neer aan de rechteroever, vervaagt de linkeroever, een vaalwitte sluier hangt over geel-groene magische velden van gras en bomen in dit kiemseizoen vol knoppen in hun bruine omhulsel, seizoen van jonge wormpjes die zich opkrullen onder de klamme aarde, van dolende zielen die vertrouwd raken, van dolende zielen besmet met de warme lucht van wierook, met de geur van mensen, achteloos zwevend nerveus uitziend naar huis, doden en levenden, door een ader vloeit bloed dat het hart doet breken, hoe lang vlieg ik al, mijn slaande vleugels in paniek boven de dijk onder sterke wind en de stromende regen, voorbij eenzame dorpen, eenzame wijken, eenzame stadjes, mijn vleugels plakken van de regen, golven in de wind, van mijn vleugels valt koude geklonterde aarde, mijn vleugels begeven het geleidelijk, worden wormen wroetend onder de grond, worden het gras dat de graven bewaakt, het lijkt of de stijger net voorbij is, of de veerman nog wacht op iemand die de rivier wil oversteken

TIẾNG ĐẬP CÁNH TỪ ĐÂU

đường về chợ Hồ đất nồng lên trong mưa sa tháng Chạp, thăm thẳm, người lạ bước thấp bước cao, mưa nhòe nhoẹt những ngón tay, đất rã ra dưới chân dấp dính, tôi đưa chân tới đây theo một câu thơ đã lỗi thời, chợ không gặp phiên quạnh lắm, chắc cô người mãi đâu kia, đò qua làng bên còn không hả cụ, tôi biết từng có đò qua góc sông này nhờ tới Google, từ hồi cầu xong, ai còn gọi đò nữa, cụ ngồi vót đũa ở đây đã bao lâu, tôi chợt thấy cụ thuở cổ tích, thuở một câu thơ đã lỗi thời, ngay lúc này, mọi thứ đã ở một thuở khác, mọi lỗi lầm đã ở một thuở khác, mọi thời đã chỉ còn là những thuở lỗi lầm, gió rúc mái gianh quán chợ chân đê chừng đã ngàn năm lưu vạn bước bán mua trong nền đất lặng, gió luồn đường gân xanh thẫm đôi tay già bóng nâu chuốt đũa, gió ửng lên chút máu nước da giấy mỏng biết thuở nào sẽ lại tươi, gió bò theo những vân tre sắc mảnh, tre già đũa tốt, tre làng, tay tôi chẻ, tôi ngâm, tôi chuốt từng chiếc, dễ chừng đã năm mươi năm nay, dễ chừng đã ngàn phiên chợ, tay người làm không tăm tắp như máy cụ nhỉ, tre ven đê làng mình giờ thưa hơn, tôi chuyện như thể thuộc làu từng góc sông, bờ cỏ, bãi tre, chỉ đang bỡ ngỡ đưa chân làm quen lại, cô xa làng đã bao lâu, cháu loanh quanh mà biền biệt cụ à, hay tôi đưa cô thăm lại từng chốn cũ, anh xe ôm tự xưng tên Chu Du dưới gốc bàng đâm xuyên mái lá phơi trần những cành gân guốc chêm lời mời lả, không biết bước chân tôi đâu phải bước chân gặp lại, không biết nơi đây ngả nào tôi cũng lần đầu, cô chỉ cần đổ xăng đầy xe và thức ăn đầy bụng tôi thôi, chị hàng nước cách quãng chuyền qua anh tới tay tôi chén trà nóng ngát xanh, tôi xoay chén trà không biết đã bao người chuyên tay, phả hơi lên mắt, cô tính mua gì ở chợ này, tôi không biết mua gì, mua được gì, có thể mua gì, một chén trà xanh ba ngàn đồng ai kể là mua bán, giữa chợ mặt người lạ thoắt quen, giữa chợ tôi nhiễm hơi người, giữa chợ tôi lây hơi quê, giữa chợ tôi tưởng mình có ông có bà có cô có cậu có chị có anh, giữa chợ tôi thèm nhận vơ luấn quấn dây bí dây bầu mọi làng tôi qua nơi đất Việt bằng thứ tiếng Việt không biệt ngữ không tiết lộ gốc nguồn, quê Bắc Việt tôi đâu cũng những phố thị giữa làng, những làng giữa phố, làng nào sau lũy tre cũng như thể một mạch máu chảy ruột mềm, cũng như tôi vẫn nhận vơ mình họ hàng chằng chịt Miên Miến Xiêm La Ai Lao Nam Dương Hương Cảng Phi Luật Tân A Man Y Lang Tân Gia Ba Mã Lai Phù Tang Cao Ly và cũng tôi Giao Chỉ An Nam Đại Việt bằng thứ giọng tiếng Anh không Anh không Mỹ, quê Á châu tôi đâu cũng những thổ âm lao xao lạ lẫm thân thương, để nhận ra nhau cả khi đã chia lìa giọng nói, đất nước nào sau những đường biên cũng như thể từng đã họ hàng và chung bọc trứng, máu chảy ruột mềm, tôi bám vào một dây dợ ngẫu nhiên để đỡ tủi phận lạc nhà, nhấc đôi đũa cả cụ già bày trên tấm bì gai, mân mê, cơ thể tôi bất thần nhức nhối, đũa cả là bà, là mẹ, đũa cả ngồi đầu nồi, đũa cả ăn cuối bữa, đũa cả lẽ công bằng nơi mâm cơm quây lại cả nhà, đũa cả tính số miệng ăn, đũa cả nhường đám trẻ con háu đói, đũa cả san sẻ bát cơm người già, đũa cả chịu đói lòng, đũa cả đi tìm người thương vạn dặm, cụ già đã ngước nhìn tôi một chớp hay vẫn bận tay cắm cúi, tre già đũa tốt lắm cô, càng dùng nước tre càng bóng, tôi nhìn lên con đê dài, ai kia trên đê bước thấp bước cao, mưa thấp mưa cao sa tóc, đầm tay, nhòa mặt, tre ven đê của làng giờ thưa hơn, tôi tính mua gì ở chợ này, tôi chưa biết mua gì, mua được gì, có thể mua gì, có thể mang gì cùng những bước cao thấp không biết còn đưa tôi đến đâu, tôi e mang thêm gì cũng nặng, tôi nhìn xuống những ngón tay già, lần theo vân tre sắc mảnh trên chiếc đũa đang trọn hình hài, dễ chừng đã hơn năm mươi năm rồi cô, dễ chừng tôi đã lo đũa ăn cho cả ngàn đôi lứa vợ chồng làng này, tôi chợt thấy cụ thuở cổ tích, thuở một câu thơ đã lỗi thời, ngay lúc này, mọi thứ đã ở một thuở khác, mọi lỗi lầm đã ở một thuở khác, mọi thời đã chỉ còn là những thuở lỗi lầm, tôi thon thót ú ớ, dễ cụ chính anh trai làng đi tìm cây tre trăm đốt xưa vót đủ đũa cho làng mới lấy được con gái phú ông chăng, cụ thoắt miệng cười răng đen, tôi không muốn cuồng hoài niệm, tôi sợ vẽ vời thêm những mộng đôi lứa bi thương, tôi tính mua gì ở đây, tôi có thể mua gì ở đây mà lặn lội bước thấp bước cao tìm chợ, đường về chợ đất nồng lên trong mưa sa thăm thẳm, đường về nhà cũng thăm thẳm, tôi đã lạc nhà, đã quên mộng sum vầy, đã không còn bên mẹ, tôi đã quên đôi đũa cả của mẹ thuở thơ, tôi đã quên dạy con trẻ cách đếm người, đếm đũa, tôi đã quên dạy con trẻ cả trăm quy tắc tôi học đầu đời bên mâm cơm mẹ vùng lúa nước, nhớ đũa có đôi, đũa không đứng lẻ, nhớ so đũa cho đều, nhớ đũa ăn chớ dùng chung, nhớ ngồi đủ xa để đũa không chạm nhau lách cách, bài học cầm đũa lóng ngóng đầu đời, bài học ăn như chim, để bụng biết đói, để miệng biết ngon, để tay biết gắp cho người thương quý, để mắt biết tìm đôi không vênh lệch, đũa thử lòng người, đường về thuở thơ thăm thẳm, tôi đã lạc nhà, đã quên mộng, đã không còn mẹ kề bên, đã quên đôi đũa cả của mẹ thuở thơ, tre già đũa tốt, tiếng cụ già nhoè nhoẹt mưa sa, hẳn số đũa cụ vót trong đời chắp lại cũng cỡ cây tre trăm đốt, cụ bỏm bẻm răng đen, dễ hơn trăm đốt cô à, nhưng không biết rồi ai vót đũa tang cho mình, cơ thể tôi bất thần nhức nhối, tôi đã quên lúc anh cả vót vội đũa bông cắm bát cơm quả trứng của cha, tôi lại cầm đũa thấp cao, tôi lại thuở đầu đời, tôi lọt lòng mẹ vào đời, tôi lọt lòng đời khi không còn bên mẹ, đường về nơi nào cũng thăm thẳm, tôi hoảng những mộng bi thương, tôi chống cơn cuồng hoài niệm, tôi phải mua một thứ gì, phải trả giá cho một thứ gì, phải mang theo một thứ gì, chục đôi đũa tre mười lăm ngàn ai kể là mua bán, chục đôi đũa tre có phải chỉ đèo bòng thêm một vô dụng lỗi thời, tôi phải mua một thứ gì, chỉ để dứt lòng rời khỏi góc chợ chân đê này, để phải nhấc mình lên, phải đập cánh tới một ngôi làng khác, một vùng thổ âm thân thương lạ lẫm khác, phải để một câu thơ lỗi thời lạc thuở khác kéo tôi đi, một thuở khác, một lỗi lầm khác, một nhận vơ luấn quấn dây bí dây bầu khác, một chằng chịt họ hàng khác, bước chân tôi chập chùng, mang theo bó đũa có phải là quá nặng, đâu mộng quấn quít, đâu mái nhà, đâu một góp gom củi lửa, một nồi cơm chung, đâu thuở thơ, đâu ngày về bên mâm cơm mẹ, tôi lạc chốn này đã bao lâu, tôi chợt thấy mình thuở cổ tích, thuở một câu thơ đã lỗi thời, ngay lúc này, mọi thứ đã ở một thuở khác, mọi lỗi lầm đã ở một thuở khác, mọi thời đã chỉ còn là những thuở lỗi lầm, gió đê hun hút, người lạ bước thấp bước cao, những ngón tay nhòe nhoẹt dấp dính rã ra đất nhão, này hữu ngạn mưa sa, tả ngạn mưa mờ, một dải màn trắng nhợt giăng ngang những mảng xanh vàng kỳ diệu của cây cỏ mùa ủ lộc dưới vỏ nâu, mùa sâu non cuộn mình lòng đất ẩm, mùa những cô hồn lạ hóa quen, mùa những cô hồn lây hơi ấm khói hương, những cô hồn nhiễm hơi người, lơ là bay bồn chồn quê quán, kẻ âm người dương cũng một mạch máu chảy ruột mềm, tôi bay đã bao lâu, cánh tôi đập hoảng trên đê gió thốc mưa sa, qua những làng, những thị, những trấn lẻ loi, cánh tôi dấp dính mưa, chập chùng gió, cánh tôi đang rã ra từng mảng đất nhão ướt lạnh, cánh tôi sụm dần, làm sâu dụi đất, làm cỏ canh mồ, chừng vừa qua một bến đò, chừng một lái đò còn đợi ai muốn sang sông

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A SOUND OF FLAPPING WINGS

the road back to Hồ market pulses up a warm earth smell in the unrelenting rain of this Twelfth Month, interminable, a stranger stumbling along, rain blears the fingers, earth sinks away beneath slimy wet feet, my steps here pulled forth by some line of poetry out of time, showing up to market on an off-day, take it you're from somewhere or other place eh little lady, how about the old ferry is it still coming around these days Gramp, thanks to Google i know this stretch of the levee once held a ferry crossing, not since that bridge’s finished who's gonna be calling on any more ferryman, so how long’ve you been here whittling chopsticks then Gramp, i get a flash of the old man from some tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has since dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, wind nuzzles into the stall’s thatched roof in this market under the levee keeping for ages the thousands of buying and selling steps in its mute grounds, wind threads the purpled veins of shiny brown hands aged and whittling away, wind blushes a rosiness into paper-thin skin who knows when will be fresh again, wind crawls along the delicate grain of bamboo, older the bamboo better the stick, village bamboo, i split by hand, soaked, and whittled each stick, must be fifty years i’ve been here, must be a thousand markets i've seen, though handmade’s never as even as machinemade isn’t that so Gramp, and with the bamboo hedging our levee lately thinning out, i chat away as if having memorized every last corner of the levee, every grassy bank, every clutch of bamboo, just these baby steps of reacquainting feet, so how long’ve you been away little lady, me oh just here and there but nearly vanished from view, how’s about i spin you around past all your old spots, the brother driving a moto taxi calling himself Chu Du the rambler beneath a sea-almond tree whose sinewy branches pierce the thatched roof wedges himself into conversation, doesn’t know my steps aren’t the retracing kind, doesn’t know that here all paths i roam for the first time, just fill up my tank and belly that’s enough, the sister selling drinks down the way passes brother moto taxi a hot cup of green tea to place in my hands, in my hands i roll the steaming cup having passed now between how many hands, breath its vapor into my eyes, so what’s the little lady planning to buy at the market here, i don’t know what to buy, what can be bought, what is possible to buy, this cup of green tea for three thousand đồng who would call that shopping, thick in the market unknown faces alchemize familiar, thick in the market i breathe in a human air, thick in the market i contract a countryside’s contagious air, thick in the market i envision a grandpa a grandma an auntie an uncle a sister a brother, thick in the market i crave dressing up in vines of the gourd’s tight-knit kith every time i pass through a village on Việt soil with my Việt utterances unlocalized not disclosing an origin, my North Việt homeland full of cities within villages, villages within cities, any village behind clutches of bamboo is so, when blood sheds the skin turns pale, as i dress up in the interlacing roots of Kambuja Mranma Siam Muang Lao Southern Waters Fragrant Harbor Philip’s Land Oman Ayra Singapura Melayu Land Nippon Koryŏ and my Greater Việt of the Peaceful South with an English voice neither British nor American, my Asian homeland where every place murmurs its intimate and strange vernaculars, recognizing each other even when divided by speech, any country beyond its border seems so, all are relatives born from the same sac of one hundred eggs, when blood sheds the skin turns pale, i pluck at random roots of a family tree to relieve the pitied fate of having strayed, taking a pair of serving chopsticks that the Grampa here displays on his flax blanket, stroking them, my body abruptly aches, for the serving sticks that were grandma, mom, the serving sticks at the head of the pot, the ones eating at the meal’s end, the ones pronouncing fairness at the gathering tray, the ones counting the number of mouths, the ones conceding to ravenous kids, the ones sharing with old folks, the ones bearing hunger, the ones seeking a beloved thousands of miles away, was he just glancing up at me in amusement or simply continuing to work his busy hands, older the bamboo better the stick you know miss, the more you use’m the better their complexion, i look to the levee, someone on the distant bank stumbles along, rain stumbles down falling on hair, saturating hands, blurring face, the levee bamboo lately thinning out, what do i plan to buy at this market, don’t know what to buy, what can be bought, what is possible to buy, what is possible to carry with these stumbling steps that keep taking me who knows where, fearing the heaviness of carrying anything more, i look down at the old fingers, follow the grain of bamboo shaping the chopstick, must be more’n fifty years already, must be i’ve seen to the sticks that feed countless couples of the village, i get a flash of the man from some tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, i rev with inarticulate babble, Gramp you’re that guy that young peasant from the old fairy tale who has to find a bamboo tree one hundred segments long to whittle all the village’s chopsticks so he can marry the rich man’s daughter, the old man peels back a black-toothed smile, i don’t want nostalgia’s intoxication, i fear decorating this happy couplehood with tragic dreams, what do i plan to buy here, what is possible to buy here trudging along this stumbling road in search of the market, the market road of earthy rain interminably falling, the road home just as interminable, i’ve strayed from home, forgotten the illusion of enveloping harmony, forgotten how it was with mom at my side, forgotten her old serving sticks, forgotten to teach the little ones how to count people, count chopsticks, forgotten to teach the little ones the hundreds of rules that mom of the rice paddies drilled into my first tale of life beside her tray, remember that chopsticks come in pairs, that chopsticks don’t stand alone, remember to measure them so they match, that eating sticks are not to be shared, remember to sit with enough space between so you don’t clatter with your neighbor, those first fumbling lessons of holding the sticks, the lesson to eat like a bird, so the belly knows hunger, so the mouth knows taste, so the hands know to place which pieces on your beloved’s plate, so the eyes know the good match, chopsticks are a testament of a person’s heart, the road back to a tale of childhood just as interminable, i’ve strayed from home, forgotten the illusion, forgotten how it was with mom at my side, forgotten her old serving sticks, older the bamboo better the sticks, the voice of the old Grampa is bleary in the hard falling rain, surely all the chopsticks you’ve whittled in your life would add up to a tree of a hundred segments though, his leisurely blackened teeth, must be more’n a hundred little lady, but the question is who’s gonna whittle the sticks for my funeral, my body abruptly aches, i’d forgotten the time my eldest brother frantically whittled the pair of flowering chopsticks for dad’s funeral bowl of rice and egg, the chopsticks stumble in my hands again, again in my first tale of life, i descend the channels of mom into life, i descend the channels of life with mom no longer at my side, the road anywhere interminable all the same, unnerved by those tragic dreams, i resist the quiver of nostalgia, i should buy some thing, should pay for some thing, should carry along some thing, ten pairs of bamboo chopsticks for fifteen thousand đồng who would call that shopping, ten pairs of bamboo chopsticks perhaps just to be burdened by one more useless drop out of time, but i should buy some thing, just to snip the cord and leave this market under the levee, should be able to pick myself up, should flap the wings to some other village, a different region of strange and intimate vernaculars, should let myself be dragged along by some line of poetry out of time lost in a different tale, a different tale, a different mistake, to pluck the vines of the gourd’s tight-knit kith, a different interlacing of relatives, i undulate, is the bundle too heavy to carry, what of the intertwining dreams, what of the sheltering roof, what of the accumulating firewood, a shared pot of rice, what of childhood’s tale, what of the homecoming day beside mom’s rice tray, how long have i strayed from this place, i get a flash of myself from a tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has since dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, the wind gasps over the levee, this stranger stumbling along, the bleary wet fingers sink into slipping earth, rain you are there unrelenting on the right bank, blinding mist on the left, a pale white length of curtain unfurls across golden green patches of plants otherworldly in this season of buds in their nurturing brown cases, season of newborn worms rolling in the womb of a damp earth, of orphaned souls who alchemize familiar, of souls who contract the warm airs of incense, of souls who breathe in a contagious human air, floating in aimless anxious hope for a homeland, creatures living and dead as blood sheds the skin turns pale, how long have i been flying, my flapping wings above the levee panicked in the fierce wind falling rain, through lonely villages, hamlets, towns, my flapping wings bleary in rain, undulating in wind, my mud splattered wings coated in slippery cold, my wings slowly collapse, becoming an earth-burrowing worm, becoming the grave-vigiling grass, as if just passing a dock, as if there’s a ferryman still holding out for someone to want to cross a river

A SOUND OF FLAPPING WINGS

the road back to Hồ market pulses up a warm earth smell in the unrelenting rain of this Twelfth Month, interminable, a stranger stumbling along, rain blears the fingers, earth sinks away beneath slimy wet feet, my steps here pulled forth by some line of poetry out of time, showing up to market on an off-day, take it you're from somewhere or other place eh little lady, how about the old ferry is it still coming around these days Gramp, thanks to Google i know this stretch of the levee once held a ferry crossing, not since that bridge’s finished who's gonna be calling on any more ferryman, so how long’ve you been here whittling chopsticks then Gramp, i get a flash of the old man from some tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has since dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, wind nuzzles into the stall’s thatched roof in this market under the levee keeping for ages the thousands of buying and selling steps in its mute grounds, wind threads the purpled veins of shiny brown hands aged and whittling away, wind blushes a rosiness into paper-thin skin who knows when will be fresh again, wind crawls along the delicate grain of bamboo, older the bamboo better the stick, village bamboo, i split by hand, soaked, and whittled each stick, must be fifty years i’ve been here, must be a thousand markets i've seen, though handmade’s never as even as machinemade isn’t that so Gramp, and with the bamboo hedging our levee lately thinning out, i chat away as if having memorized every last corner of the levee, every grassy bank, every clutch of bamboo, just these baby steps of reacquainting feet, so how long’ve you been away little lady, me oh just here and there but nearly vanished from view, how’s about i spin you around past all your old spots, the brother driving a moto taxi calling himself Chu Du the rambler beneath a sea-almond tree whose sinewy branches pierce the thatched roof wedges himself into conversation, doesn’t know my steps aren’t the retracing kind, doesn’t know that here all paths i roam for the first time, just fill up my tank and belly that’s enough, the sister selling drinks down the way passes brother moto taxi a hot cup of green tea to place in my hands, in my hands i roll the steaming cup having passed now between how many hands, breath its vapor into my eyes, so what’s the little lady planning to buy at the market here, i don’t know what to buy, what can be bought, what is possible to buy, this cup of green tea for three thousand đồng who would call that shopping, thick in the market unknown faces alchemize familiar, thick in the market i breathe in a human air, thick in the market i contract a countryside’s contagious air, thick in the market i envision a grandpa a grandma an auntie an uncle a sister a brother, thick in the market i crave dressing up in vines of the gourd’s tight-knit kith every time i pass through a village on Việt soil with my Việt utterances unlocalized not disclosing an origin, my North Việt homeland full of cities within villages, villages within cities, any village behind clutches of bamboo is so, when blood sheds the skin turns pale, as i dress up in the interlacing roots of Kambuja Mranma Siam Muang Lao Southern Waters Fragrant Harbor Philip’s Land Oman Ayra Singapura Melayu Land Nippon Koryŏ and my Greater Việt of the Peaceful South with an English voice neither British nor American, my Asian homeland where every place murmurs its intimate and strange vernaculars, recognizing each other even when divided by speech, any country beyond its border seems so, all are relatives born from the same sac of one hundred eggs, when blood sheds the skin turns pale, i pluck at random roots of a family tree to relieve the pitied fate of having strayed, taking a pair of serving chopsticks that the Grampa here displays on his flax blanket, stroking them, my body abruptly aches, for the serving sticks that were grandma, mom, the serving sticks at the head of the pot, the ones eating at the meal’s end, the ones pronouncing fairness at the gathering tray, the ones counting the number of mouths, the ones conceding to ravenous kids, the ones sharing with old folks, the ones bearing hunger, the ones seeking a beloved thousands of miles away, was he just glancing up at me in amusement or simply continuing to work his busy hands, older the bamboo better the stick you know miss, the more you use’m the better their complexion, i look to the levee, someone on the distant bank stumbles along, rain stumbles down falling on hair, saturating hands, blurring face, the levee bamboo lately thinning out, what do i plan to buy at this market, don’t know what to buy, what can be bought, what is possible to buy, what is possible to carry with these stumbling steps that keep taking me who knows where, fearing the heaviness of carrying anything more, i look down at the old fingers, follow the grain of bamboo shaping the chopstick, must be more’n fifty years already, must be i’ve seen to the sticks that feed countless couples of the village, i get a flash of the man from some tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, i rev with inarticulate babble, Gramp you’re that guy that young peasant from the old fairy tale who has to find a bamboo tree one hundred segments long to whittle all the village’s chopsticks so he can marry the rich man’s daughter, the old man peels back a black-toothed smile, i don’t want nostalgia’s intoxication, i fear decorating this happy couplehood with tragic dreams, what do i plan to buy here, what is possible to buy here trudging along this stumbling road in search of the market, the market road of earthy rain interminably falling, the road home just as interminable, i’ve strayed from home, forgotten the illusion of enveloping harmony, forgotten how it was with mom at my side, forgotten her old serving sticks, forgotten to teach the little ones how to count people, count chopsticks, forgotten to teach the little ones the hundreds of rules that mom of the rice paddies drilled into my first tale of life beside her tray, remember that chopsticks come in pairs, that chopsticks don’t stand alone, remember to measure them so they match, that eating sticks are not to be shared, remember to sit with enough space between so you don’t clatter with your neighbor, those first fumbling lessons of holding the sticks, the lesson to eat like a bird, so the belly knows hunger, so the mouth knows taste, so the hands know to place which pieces on your beloved’s plate, so the eyes know the good match, chopsticks are a testament of a person’s heart, the road back to a tale of childhood just as interminable, i’ve strayed from home, forgotten the illusion, forgotten how it was with mom at my side, forgotten her old serving sticks, older the bamboo better the sticks, the voice of the old Grampa is bleary in the hard falling rain, surely all the chopsticks you’ve whittled in your life would add up to a tree of a hundred segments though, his leisurely blackened teeth, must be more’n a hundred little lady, but the question is who’s gonna whittle the sticks for my funeral, my body abruptly aches, i’d forgotten the time my eldest brother frantically whittled the pair of flowering chopsticks for dad’s funeral bowl of rice and egg, the chopsticks stumble in my hands again, again in my first tale of life, i descend the channels of mom into life, i descend the channels of life with mom no longer at my side, the road anywhere interminable all the same, unnerved by those tragic dreams, i resist the quiver of nostalgia, i should buy some thing, should pay for some thing, should carry along some thing, ten pairs of bamboo chopsticks for fifteen thousand đồng who would call that shopping, ten pairs of bamboo chopsticks perhaps just to be burdened by one more useless drop out of time, but i should buy some thing, just to snip the cord and leave this market under the levee, should be able to pick myself up, should flap the wings to some other village, a different region of strange and intimate vernaculars, should let myself be dragged along by some line of poetry out of time lost in a different tale, a different tale, a different mistake, to pluck the vines of the gourd’s tight-knit kith, a different interlacing of relatives, i undulate, is the bundle too heavy to carry, what of the intertwining dreams, what of the sheltering roof, what of the accumulating firewood, a shared pot of rice, what of childhood’s tale, what of the homecoming day beside mom’s rice tray, how long have i strayed from this place, i get a flash of myself from a tale long ago told, a ballad whose poetic line has since dropped out of time, and now, all things that once were now a different tale, all mistakes that once were now a different tale, all times that once upon ago are now only a tale of mistakes, the wind gasps over the levee, this stranger stumbling along, the bleary wet fingers sink into slipping earth, rain you are there unrelenting on the right bank, blinding mist on the left, a pale white length of curtain unfurls across golden green patches of plants otherworldly in this season of buds in their nurturing brown cases, season of newborn worms rolling in the womb of a damp earth, of orphaned souls who alchemize familiar, of souls who contract the warm airs of incense, of souls who breathe in a contagious human air, floating in aimless anxious hope for a homeland, creatures living and dead as blood sheds the skin turns pale, how long have i been flying, my flapping wings above the levee panicked in the fierce wind falling rain, through lonely villages, hamlets, towns, my flapping wings bleary in rain, undulating in wind, my mud splattered wings coated in slippery cold, my wings slowly collapse, becoming an earth-burrowing worm, becoming the grave-vigiling grass, as if just passing a dock, as if there’s a ferryman still holding out for someone to want to cross a river

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
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