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Manoa 14.1 (2002) 14-16
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As my crossed legs freeze to the thick stone floor
I no longer feel the spinning earth.
I have sat motionless for two years in one spot,
Night after night watching the moon wax and wane
And constellations faithfully bloom every evening
Beyond the trellis of thin bars on the jail window,
An indelible image of stillness
Undisturbed even by the drifting clouds.
In pain and sorrow I sit here,
Placid amidst the moon and stars.
No ocean's storm or hurricane
Can disturb the high hilltop I am on.
I sit in this temporal world
While moonlight purifies my soul.
The terrestrial pink dust that settles outside the prison door
Does not stain my gray prisoner's shirt.
I sit here while my cold and numb heart
Continually kindles its fire of faithfulness,
Even though my flesh and bone may turn to stone,
Like that rock that resembles the fabled mother holding her son
Watching for the return of her forever-absent husband
Frozen in her eternal wait atop the mountain.
Translation by Phon-anh [End Page 14]
Crossing the Parallel
March, march on, on this endless path
That does not cease its climb up the Truong Son range.
Leaves are woven into branches, the trees tall and taller still;
Sunlight, in bright fragments like flowers, chases my footsteps;
The angry water of the falls flows violently down and downward—
But where to, and does it not carry shades of the homeland?
And will it flow into the ill-willed river
That divides a nation in half, its water running in two different courses?
My feet fall apart; the walking stick I can no longer hold.
My throat has burned dry, lips melted into one,
While my heart beats fast and my breathing bursts my lungs.
Still the mountain pass is high above,
And my steps cannot be slowed.
Move, move on—I am forced from my mother's land,
My exile's steps bloodied, my heart wounded,
While around me are tides of enmity;
White into black, even absolute truths have been perverted.
The afternoon folds its wings over this desolate jungle;
Let us pause, this moment, where birds and streams meet like lovers.
I do not fear these formidable miles
For I am this very night on the free shores still.
These flickering flames fail to make ashes of my sorrow;
The wind insists on blowing separation into my faithful soul.
My Southern land, will I ever return to you?
Or will my faith not blossom, red as the poincianas along the River of Perfume? [End Page 15]
In the Same Boat
The sunset spreads, an exquisite gray robe,
The clouds cling, the wind blows, leaves wait for flowers;
Elsewhere, the weather may shine in glory,
Here in this drab spring afternoon, I am filled with longing.
Forty narrow rooms, so much suffering;
Separated by walls thick as miles
We each glimpse a piece of blue sky between green leaves
And wonder in what direction our home lies.
We dream of white rivers, golden sunlight,
Sweet coconut and palm trees spreading bountiful shade,
Of lotus flowers carrying the capital's past in their fragrance
Of a Lam Vien dusk lending a shade of purple to the peach blossoms.
Someone longs for his white-haired father,
Another a mother's tearful eyes,
A wife's face upon a solitary pillow,
And the dry lips of a child.
Our cause reverberates in me like ocean waves,
And I hear battle sounds from the Southern front;
Resenting my presence beyond the frontier
I hear too the echoes of distant guns.
In the same boat, we're lost without a landing dock,
Our longing stretching for a thousand miles to more longing.
The homeland is so far yet so near,
So deep in our heart.
Translations by Nguyen Qui Duc
Hoang Lien was a civilian governor in South Viet Nam. Captured by North Vietnamese troops during the Tet Offensive of 1968, he was imprisoned until 1980. He came to the United States in...