Saṃsāra

1

to find a way back, he clings on
his name.

2

the little dog’s drowning in a basin.

inside the basin held a pitch black night.

the pitch black night
held the dog vomiting
rain onto the ground.

the rain then became
her mournful barks,
then the barks became his name.

and his name became the father’s
ideology to love his sons.

3

the older brother was no van Gogh,

but father sliced his ear off
with a kitchen knife —

to help him learn to listen.

the younger one
still having both of his ears.

van Gogh becomes his name.

4

the kitchen knife has become his name,
the drowning dog has become his name,

he mounts the syllables onto
the inside of his head.

until the skull bursts open,
a mixture of rain and basin water
and dog’s piss pouring out
until it’s enough to
fill up the scar today
and the scar tomorrow.

5

all he could do is to cling on it
to find a way back —
the name’s become an eternity.
the father is an eternity.

WHAT IT TAKES

One way to learn about love, what it takes, is through how your brother and his wife feed their baby. She barely sucks the warm liquid flowing from the inside of her mother, but there is a pumping machine attached to her breasts. That way, the milk can be measured to its very ounces. She carefully fills the bottles with the pumped milk. Then, another machine is used to keep them warm, until the baby girl is ready to be fed. Meanwhile, the child is often sound asleep in her singing carriage, until she wakes up, forgets about the mother’s breasts and forgets her tongue. I used to have bottles, too, filled with the water splashing out from a large basin when he tried to drown my 3-month-old dog until she shat herself, for her didn’t stop barking in a dark, stormy evening. I didn’t forget about the dog and didn’t forget my tongue, for my tongue was once my mother’s, who was on her knees, begging her God for something good to end up in her womb, a daughter maybe — but her words only traveled halfway, and eventually, she had me instead. To understand what it takes to learn about love is to remember what we had lost escorting the tongue of a mother, besides her breasts and the dog howling in a dark, stormy evening.

MOUNTAINS

3:00 PM
Inside the rubber plantation
leaf rubbing against one another
like fragments of ghostly bullets piercing holes
onto nameless bodies
(*a piece of broken memory)

8:00 PM
Iced moon and snowing stars make
one’s breath illuminate
half a box of cigarettes already fades
into mountain clouds

10:00 PM
Under the blanket made of Venus’ eyes
& a mundane mind
The way
a son big spoons
the ancient tree
filled with his own blood;

The way
A dominant goes deep into the flesh
just to feel protected;
The way
a whole city scrammed into the pine needle
& Bach’s Prelude No.1
repeats only its four first measures.

It’s called warmth;
& swallowing the future
we dive.

AN INTERPRETATION OF SUFFERINGS

to his counselor,
he made
a long list
of symptoms:
depressed,
back pain,
local pain,
loss of appetite,
loss of concentration,
nausea,
loss of interest,
language distortion —
through
the computer screen;
& she later
called them dukkha
for the sake
of censorship;
he went on:
nothing has changed
since I’m back
here:
she would be
chanting the Vietnamese
transcribed version
of Jewel Sutras
every night,
eyes closed,
without
understanding
a word of it;
she
had long
karaoke hours
once a week,
singing the same
repeated tunes,
with max volume
& doubled echoes —
exactly the way
her daunting
blame
bouncing against
his sickened head;
the Buddha
would bless
all of us

her belief was
tremendous:
by placing Him
on the altar,
next to her
dead grandpa
& the late
General,
with non-
toxic incenses
& phonetic
recitation
every night;
without knowing
none of us
is yet
near nirvana
& neither was
close enough
for her
to understand
changes have
various meanings,
so she ended up
censored
(his) the suffering
parts;
she persisted
with firm
to rather have
the Buddha
bless the shit
out of (him) us
;
even though
a Buddhist would
claim such thing
as theoretically incorrect
& none of us
was even
an inch
close up
to enlightenment.

BEVERAGE POEM

At the age of 5,
I was first introduced to coffee.
I used to drink ’em every morning
so that I could avoid breakfast at kindergarten.
How I drank:
in a bowl of hot water goes the cup of condensed milk,
a filtre à café on top of it.
Then, I studied the drink:
drops of black hitting the white surface
and blended it out slowly,
& felt a childish crave in the stomach.
When the coffee was one-third of the milk,
I stirred it up & sipped it — as many times as I could
& let the warm fluid penetrate my senses.
Recommendation: if you’re a 5-year-old,
you can skip breakfast

because a 5-year-old does not know
about colonialism —
At the age of 6,
I knew about Pepsi,
which was only allowed after a big feast.
Mom said it’s good for digestion,
but too much of it will lead to cancer.
In fact, I could never finish the whole can myself
even as a grown adult, plus a cup of ice.
I saw some American drank the whole thing up,
straight from the aluminum container.
PepsiCo, Inc. is an American multinational food, snack and
beverage corporation…”

Thoughts: maybe capitalism is both abundant and capacious;
Recommendation: “better when drinking cold”
Caution: too much drinking causes cancer (?)
Is this just a Vietnamese thing?
I don’t know, & neither do I expect to finish the whole can;
I’m just simply curious about the people who can —
As I’ve drunk them both,
I write poetry.

MILK-WOMAN IN BLACK COMPLET

busy street at 5 PM
the woman was on her motorbike
resting on the terracotta pavement

her forehead sparkled
a drop of sweat
filled with an orange sunset
with leaf and wind
with houses and buildings
a crowded T-junction
and flocks of migrating storks

she wore a black suit
but her bike’s handles
hung blocks
of crème caramels
and her backseat
tied a red box
with chilling milk bottles

I looked at her
and the sunset drop
but I didn’t want to make a guess
of her name
or her job
or her life
or even her suit
so I simply called her
“milk-woman in a black complet”
to keep myself grounded
to heredity
to now
to now
to now and here

THE CONFLUENCE IN SPOON RIVER

This poem is written based on the fictional voices of Aner Clute and Mrs. Kessler – two persons from two separate poetic epitaphs from Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters.

oh, poor Aner Clute,

the journey through the States just shrinks into

this small town of Spoon River

where it all began.

Now it’s the water she’s become,

& she wonders if that’s also freedom in another sense —

oh, small Mrs. Kessler,

her water cannot be clean.

keeping people’s secrets sine die,

“but isn’t mine as well defiled?

since I also carried those kinds from people’s flesh?”

– said poor Aner Clute.

“that’ true,

but still, I could not talk to the curtains,

the counterpanes, shirts and skirts.”

-answered small Mrs. Kessler.

but does it at all matter?

since now they’re both water,

(poor and small, that’s America, isn’t it?)

& eventually,

the water would even out,

they thought. 


(A Vietnamese translation – bản dịch tiếng Việt)

ôi, Aner Clute tội nghiệp,

chu du khắp liên ban rồi cũng đến hồi kết tại thị trấn Spoon River nhỏ bé

nơi mọi thứ bắt đầu.

giờ đây nàng hóa thành dòng nước,

và tự hỏi đây có phải một dạng thức của tự do —

ôi, bà Kessler nhỏ bé;

dòng nước nơi bà vẫn đục.

níu giữ bí mật của người muôn thuở,

“nhưng chẳng phải dòng nước của tôi cũng vấy bẩn

bởi xác thịt người đời tôi ở đấy sao?”

-Aner Clute tội nghiệp nói.

“đúng là thế,

nhưng tôi cũng chẳng thể nào nói chuyện với vải mành,

ga trải, với cả váy đầm, áo phông.”

-Kessler nhỏ bé phân trần.

nhưng diều đó có còn quan trọng,

khi hai ta đã hóa thành dòng nước,

(nhỏ bé và tội nghiệp, chẳng phải nước Mĩ đó sao?)

Và rồi,

Dòng nước trước sau cũng san bằng mọi thứ,

Họ dặn lòng mình thế.