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Manoa 14.1 (2002) 93
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Wake at midnight, the body stretched out,
read a friend's poem, other lines follow.
Lines of long ago, lines unceasing,
a glimpse of that distant shore.
Alone like a statue in a corner,
Voice asks: What drink would you like?
Drink?I say. Bring me a gulp of the heart-tearing afternoon.
A bottle of darkness full to the brim.
Leave early in the morning, the flowers know nothing.
Return late at night, the evening branches know nothing.
Only the moon sometimes catches a glimpse,
a stooped shadow moving along a darkened wall.
Sometimes departed spirits wake up inside me,
they set off wildfires and floods in my heart.
With great regret I have to tell them,
Too late, the grave is dug, grass grows over it.
Translations by Kevin Bowen and Nguyen Ba Chung
Mai Thao is the given name of Nguyen Dang Quy. He was born in 1927 in Nam Dinh. When the Ho Chi Minh government took over the North in 1954, he joined the exodus south. He became a key figure in the pre-1975 literature of South Viet Nam and was one of the main contributors to Sang Tao (Creativity) and Nghe Thuat (Arts) journals. In 1978, he resettled in the United States and founded Van (Literature), the first major literary journal produced by Vietnamese overseas. A prolific author with ten collections of short stories, thirty-three novels, and two personal narratives, he died in 1998. He is best remembered for his volume of verse, We See in Our Form the Shape of Temples and Shrines.