FIRMAMENT WITHOUT ROOF COVER (Collected Poems) - Mai Văn Phấn. Translated from Vietnamese by Trần Nghi Hoàng. Edited by Frederick Turner

Mai Văn Phấn

Translated from Vietnamese by Trần Nghi Hoàng

Edited by Frederick Turner





Page Addie Press of the UK, 2012.

Publishing House of the Vietnam Writer’s Association, 2012.




Vietnamese version: Bầu trời không mái che





Translator - Poet Trần Nghi Hoàng





Professor - Poet Frederick Turner






Mothergate (1)




Mother nature caressing child as the moonlight

Sound passing from bough to bough, the howling

Skin and flesh of the woman I loved,

Our love child spreading deep into the dark

Entering into the dark night,

Skin and flesh erect lift the layered clouds for us

To make a watershed of rain over the sources of rivers


A bough quivers on the water’s surface

Where a bird suddenly perches


Only I can see that small bird so far away from the road

Far away from the garden, from the other flocks of birds

I quietly pass through the corona at the bottom of the water

And look up at the sky with open wings


Rising to the top of the tree where the bird’s beak

Bends down to feed into the mouths of its fledglings

Each sip of wind


Sound of chipped grain in the chest

The bare ground and green fruit

The dense-leaved canopy of the forest


Newborn child on the ground

Swim across the river the tadpole’s tail severing

Learning to flaps its wings, fanning the wind into the nest’s warm bowel

Sprouts the cotyledon leaves, flies away freely


Steam rises by the river-wharf

Space condenses the confusion of time

Smoke steams up high

I realize I am swimming in a sea mist


Not mist but rain

The tall tower glittering


Breathing, muscles firm, the leaf singing...

The dead return, suddenly, in the blossoming flower


I shudder at a shoreline

The water surface choking where there are no breaking waves


A sip of cool water drifting slowly...


Suddenly remembers the high tide season submerging the cricket’s cave

Burble sound of bubbles gushing up by stages

So that I realize where the cave mouth is...




Place child on the ground

The riverbed has enough pain to tear off the body of night


Nature glossy wet

The trunk of trees disintegration turns into splinters

Water swift flowing

Flowing faster


I burst into tears to sweep away the spider web

Sound of the heron’s hoarseness

The ashes flashing up

Moon trembling


Pick up a pebble to draw on the ground

A field

The young calf bewildered


A clear outline as the calf bent down to graze


Another direction draws an extra eye

The eye of wild animals or eye of human

Write the words on the remaining empty boxes.




The voice very close

Under the light of dawn you must transform yourself!




Yin Yang bowl of water


While crawling over bowl of twilight

Pull the body gradually out of the shell

I sip the dewdrops


The ghastly shell heaped up high

Was out of reach


Groups of people helping each other towards incapacity

End of dawn.




The shade of trees bursting out underfoot

Images on the map are torn off?

Or the half-bat half-mouse corpse?


I was so frightened, weaving the grating

Set booby-traps around myself

Sharpening the knife

Preparing a matchbox


As close to the horizon

The drifting darkness was terrible

Faster than emotion


I keep accumulating anxiety, the resentment

Until the blackness of night was completely

Erased off.




I chased small prey

Threw myself upon the wave’s crest, then lost direction


The low tide

In the dream near morning


My bones painful

The tail and dorsal fin frostbitten

There is a hand threading the strings

Dragging me slowly on the ground


They stopped to shelter from the rain

Suddenly release me

Near the foot of waves


I was grateful the rain

The loud thunder and cool wind.




Father recently tried to get up after being bedridden, staggering out the door, he fell into a square block of light


He tried to point his finger, then said: “That green beetle on a leaf canopy, father sees it for the first time”.


I tell these unintentional stories about the time father was in a coma. A story of the large cloud that flew slowly through our home. The deep wells rising steam up to the window. One story about the song of the crypsirina temia bird, makes everyone look at the bowl of drugs.


The body of father is like shallow rivers, dry wood, and the empty paddy grain

The raceme of weighty fruits, swaying in the strong wind


Father suddenly whispering: Please help father go to rest

Sound of dried leaves sliding off the roof makes father and I shed tears together.




The universe lays the black coat over me

Only eyes open to pray


Mumbling I still thought

... white hand black blood white tongue black tears white back black helix curl of white hair black sweat


The black spilt on everything will end us

Let’s pray to save the people of this world



Kitchen bright...


Look in any direction

Like learning to focus on the blackboard

Learning to separate the colors

To spell the letters

This crossroad of white

The earth’s surface, the seas surface white

Great old man, a chair, the woman in white

The inspector, the farmer in white...


The mouth reads aloud, the mind still holds sundry thoughts

…white tongue black tears white back black helix curl of white hair…




Curled up I sleep in cold wind

Dream to be a fetus

The navel-string connects to the solar


Fly above canopy of the trees

The eyes with a look, make the sound of sobbing… blue


Every tiny bud of limbs

Springing lightly in the body of Him

I wake up


That place starts on the road

The colt unsteady standing up

The flock of insects crawling out of the trunk

The tiny shrimp blasting off the throat of water.




drum gong and eight ornaments

opens the festival of imperial court

sing and dance to heaven

the great merit of four palaces

opens the mind of a disciple

tolerant eyes look

the quiet weather

the special envoy giving out grace

sincerity respectfully kowtow

four gods flanking the lady god

garb and turban of sorceress are brocade and flower embroidery.

come and go refreshed

moving between heaven and earth

powdery cheeks and ruby lips

rhythm of bamboo beating and rhythm of castanets

string of coins

sacred dragon hovering

five great mandarins’

the hand swaying

high talent deep virtue

the flame glittering

fondle protecting

loving mason bee

silkworm spits out the silk cord

garb and scarf flapping

alluvial cuddling

wind coming back to the riverbed

cassaba melon pyriform melon

fragrance of lotus and areca pervading

boys and girls entering the region

prepare the sedge mat, prepare the blanket

as flower, as butterfly

faces glowing with pleasure

as the ground is to the sky

grass and trees in good verdant

raining fast and violently





The Rock Inside Stream Bed


Be silent for water is flowing

Swift, deep, unending, icy cold over the rock.


Is there the spring?

Festoon climbing the trail

Voice of birds resounding down


Shadows of trees tremble on the rock, shade or sun--

How can the colors of wildflowers be unscathed forever?

The stone closes its eyes to let the water sweep over.


Languors’ with ashen thighs(2)  

Cause the tree-shadows again to move and rise;

Gentle drizzling rain disordered flies

Creeping into the deepest crevices.


Clouds stop where the clouds are...

The fragrant odor of ripe guava seeps through the forest

A porcupine ruffles its quills, goes still.


Above all in this moment

Let’s stay where you are





Spring Tone


On the jagged rock

Your dripping body was in pain.

Wide open. Tenderly drop by drop


With passionate warmth

Drops of sunshine flow into you

In a radiant tide, the season returns.


The bee cuts its flight

The wind goes straight up

The tall tree rises up to my shadow.


The dove is fully fledged.

On dewy nights the insects waken.

The straw mushrooms open their eyes

And cover the young with green.





The Bulbul


A bulbul with white spots and a red hat

Sings on the towering tree:

Tee-whit… whit… tee-woo...


Quickly I draw a cage of thought

Afraid the bird will fly away.


Just when I finished the drawing he took off,

I hugged the sunny frame, the windy frame;

As the green bough  chased after him.


Of his disappearance without a trace, I thought

Later the bulbul will be back to peck worms,

The ripe red fruit.

Every drop of water

Is my purity


Tee-whit… whit… tee-woo...


The bird needn’t fly back again--

I hear birdsong now, quite clearly.





The Scent of Cốm(3)


Autumn returns in shy

Vague mist upon green rice.


That dress, that scarf, as smooth as silk, the skin, the flesh...

The northeast wind is rising up to heaven.


Rhythm of pounding Cốm, bustling season of the sticky rice:

Baskets slowly sieving out the husk. Ruddy


Fragrant grapefruit moistens the sunny drought.

Pureness the inflorescences ohmantus fragans


Between heaven and earth the lotus tuber after rain

Tormented by a deep longing at each tightening circling roll.


The green lotus leaves are giving succor to you and me,

Over-ripening the horizon clouds of summer


To nights of making love in lamplit silence,

Persimmons drenched with the fragrance of flawless Cốm.





Oh Buffalo Calf!


Steam early in morning, garden deep into night

Rising high to each edge of silky grass

Smoother than layers of fuzz

Greener upwind


Buffalo-calf looks for his mother

Respires into clouds, the sounds of rice fields, trees budding

Knocking of hooves on the ground


The round ball bouncing up

Mole - cricket, mantis throwing the pair of sturdily built pincers


The early sunshine illuminates the body of buffalo-calf

Spreading out the caressing eyes look


Interchange of seasons vault of green leaves stretches tight

Hides underneath the bridge, waiting for buffalo-calf


I run after my shadow to roll it back

Feet touch the grass jumping up high.





Autumn Came!


That leaf falling

The ground will sink down

Resounding the bell dispels dark clouds


Sun will be hot and dry

The northeast wind trembles into a small alley

New books fresh as infant breath

Sweet of sugarcane overflowing at the top


The patient worms plaiting shiny streaks of ovum around the base of century-old tree

The young calf touching his soft tongue on grass blades


That leaf falls

Don’t know anybody lucky to come close

Moments fall back.





Wind Crest




Crawling on sharp tops of the rock

Body of wind scratches


Blood of wind is rain

Sunshine drips down


Mountains roll the kiss up high

Gray clouds cast into black


Mountains open wide their arms, trampling feet into ground

Crushing into fragments

Tears the body of wind into pieces

The starlight falling

Morning bursting out


Up to the top of slope in a flash

Open eyes look down


The kisses heaped higher

The frenzied wind rolls up on another crest.




Finding your mouth to sow

Wind clinging to tender limbs of land

Plunge down to the abyss


Rot the bowels of hills and mountains

Chest of wind drifting

Playing on the ground


The shell cracked flash

Spring overflows the grain mouth


Waiting to sprout the cotyledons

Wind will carry the ground away.




Shut tight the door the more wind blows

Things suddenly remembered, tighten in my chest


The eye of wind swept me into you

Turning quickly round and round


Swiftly passing a bridge

My body was bent by the wind

Hung like a wet towel across the railing

Dripping down into a swift-flowing river.


Remembering how the train cuts through a body of wind

Columns of smoke overturn and siren sounds disappear in an instant


My breath is constrained through the trumpet-reed

The pressure like an eagle wings spreading wide

Raising fragile dragonfly wings

Cavalier on the wind’s crest


Outside the vault of leaf disorder

Torn to satisfy the frenzied excitement

This inhibition of lust.





Your Garden


After rain the trees is a slim figure

Smooth green two-sides of the leaf

A leaf’s hand always soft


Sound of Bách Thanh bird tossing the net

Tightens against me with pomelo and root of benjamin fig

Mallow, lavender, geranium...

The garb of autumn most gentle


You shut your eyes, the eyes that sparkled everywhere


I stepped upon a piece of sunshine

Our early morning boat

You told me to wait while you to locked the gate tightly.





Moon Season




The moon turned to lay on its other side

Overhanging other kisses;

A curtain of fog, the smell of other grasses.


It was by a canal:

The silhouette of a small boat against the bridge

The rocky shore lying still to listen to strange sweat

Of midnight moonlight falling drop by drop.


Your hands are searching for the moon.

Every finger of the night is a glitter,

A pure roadway

Awakes a breath of fragrance.


The string of sounds overflows to day,

Going along with the moon, a laughing and speaking moon,

Spilling forth transparent color.




Leaves re-echo the waves of tangled grass

In that place hidden from mountain heights, are forests themselves;

The water’s skin stretched so tight, no waves pass;

The lissome colors of the kookaburra’s back

Transforms me into a flap of moon.  


I lead you by the hand, the wind lifts up your flower dress;

I kiss you, my little finger

Lifts you up to the moon.


The good weather rises under my feet,

A heart throbs in the land’s chest,

A stream of moonlight around the trunk.


Moving faster, my footprints

Lighter on the earth, my hand lengthens along it.


Slow down now, listen to me:

All the streets, the districts, slopes, estuaries,

All the cornfields, the paddies are learning to laugh, practicing to sing...




The pigeon was back,

Bringing the afternoon along

Clasped in its wings:


An afternoon dressed in grey plumage,

With a white compartment at neck and crown,

With tiny claws, as it steps up to the moon.


The day, dazzling and radiant

Droops the virginal flower

Tenderly shutting it down:


This is the time to make love,

To light up the dark territory;

The ancient season of pollen and birth, the seeds’ combining,

 Passion and slumber in late night moon.


Clasping the knees of old stumps,

Closing their eyes on the windy hill,

The seeds fall in the mud, fermenting, loose.


Tomorrow this earth

And the whole world will change.









Together in silence listening to the white lotuses

emerging bright,

rise up into the Cintamaya-panna(4)





Cadence I




The chamois footstep knocks on the earth

From now on the world can’t sleep


Everything’s busy, stirring in the dew of night

Grass blades, tree leaves, a brand-new mountain top

shining in the sun,

birds flying above the crags

The swift river rolls on, rutting fish flashing in the water.


The sun shines on the other side of the wall

Under this vault of leaves, birds nest, the breath of dawn.




In this daybreak only I can see the rose;

the sound of birdsong wakens

thanks to the road that leads me on.

The high clouds overhead,

the falling leaf--

these lesser things are the very being of being.


The corner of quiet lane holds its breath.

The earth has changed its season.

Flowers grown before the posts of handrail, their petals soft and crimson.

The stump of ancient tree seems transparent.

It’s time for Holy Mass,

to bless the Holy Body, to ring the bell.


Tomorrow morning you’ll change into new clothes,

the tint of velvet roses reflected in your face

Hypnotized the gust of wind suddenly blowing through.




The bird’s note pierces the crown of my head,

enters my body as I pass into sukhavati(5)


Quiet dispels from the soul

the way back from the empty mind.


The birdcall’s, shadowy, flickering,

lights up each part of the body,


So it seems to me I’m flying with the whole flock of birds

my expanding chest, chokes the sound of singing.


Which bird has been hurt?

The whole forest margin beats its wings--


Where are you


The question cuts off the rushing wind,

my mouth obeys the shape of the call.




Near dawn I awake

The bell of night covers the land


Fumbling I try to push up.

There’s no place for the night to hang on,

I don’t know where it turns into a bell.


Slipping away


your body highlights kindle the candle,

you are vaguely throughout my body.


Open the eyes, the color of the black-bell

raising the siege of the light


You’re far away from the bell




A chrysanthemum in mid air.




Go towards the end of the road

to where the storm begins

to cleanse your heart into purity


Only the dusty canopy

and dry rags of leaves know it


Can’t wait for the rain

Can’t yet see the end of the road


The wind is already floating


- Are those drops of water to baptize me?

- No, it’s rain in the vault of leaves left stagnant from yesterday.




The cat so sleepy in the sunshine

yawning with half-closed eyes;

Life overwhelms all intentions.


I’m tired at work:

I tried out your predefined plan;

I also didn’t finish it.


Should I blame the cat

for drawing my mind into its sunny daydream?


Wake up, quickly, I’ll plunge into you

and become that cat with half-closed eyes.




The winds gently shaking yellow flowers, the flower color I like.

There’s some confusion amongst wild sunflowers,

heath-bell, musk-mallow, fibrous melon blossom…


Hurriedly I sketch some flowers,

the winds caress messes with my hair.


I add a pair, boy and girl, on an equal half of peduncle;

integrate each face and pair of sandals

It’s not clear which side the wind pushes them.


A giant petal swings above my head

the soft wind makes two merge into one

the tiny one trembles as in a storm.




The stars rise behind the sunshine

in the window of the house

The news of storm clouds coming

Lightning flashes far away


To either think or say it eases the worry


Just now, calm and quiet

I was one minute away from annulling the self’s hearing itself,

looking into life relaxed and oblivious.


On the ethereal sky each flock of fireflies

those closest to stars, will draw your eyes

(love each other, then later, can’t remember the face).


Work’s all in a muddle again, I’m short of breath.


I linger beside the narrow door

looking at the sparkling ripples on the swift-flowing river.





Cadence II




Posted messages

brighten the small doorway


The blue sky beyond, rainy, sunny

the worry and calculation cannot see me.


One moment begins the day

draw a fan-shaped horizon

Every bright streak memorizing some thing

you hiding behind a giant fan


Dry leaves are falling;

by late afternoon the thunderstorm rushes in

opens up the flight path of birds.




The echo of your voice, sounds as if you wrapped a light

warm scarf around my shoulder

touched me with the old foolish time of youth.

Pick a flower, clamp it between the pages of poetry.

Young birds rise up in the nest’s mouth

the leaf canopy drooping in the rain.


You laughed and talked, innocent as child

The rain sprinkles, I’m haggard with distress.




Quiet, alone I knit my fingers

don’t allow light to pass through

don’t allow wind to go through.


Here no sun shines, no wind blows

Most terrible when nestled in quiet.


I become the pea, the point of a needle,

a lone chopstick.


Up there the sky still high

A bright cloud drifts swiftly by,

Your scarf flirtatiously floating

by chance from a window of the house

birds fly past, flock by flock.


Calling your name, I gently evoke

the smoke going up through a roof

in the middle of the forest, silence has no wind.




The pen’s on the table. Cleaning up I still want to leave it there. Holding the pen; I relax, this pen is both strange and familiar. The penholder smooth, the fingers holding. Sometimes I unscrew the pen to see inside (must do this sneakily because this is a bizarre behavior). I undo the cap of the pen as one would burst open a door, pry open the hatch of a dark cellar... Feeling suddenly awake, I open my eyes. I want to remove the pen cap somewhere. Place the pen cap above, the pen to the right or below. Even vice versa.



Screwing back...

Screwing... undoing ...

Screwing again...

The pen balanced and unharmed.




I lean on the railings of the imagined ship

together with you flying close

your soft waist and hair tossed back


Reminded of the small bag I carry

A little food and a bottle of drinking water.


The ship glides on the waves

I want you to fly higher,


While far away like a bird

I calmly peck a small sip of water.


The sea wider,

you’re wavering far away

very tiny, making me squint.

The waves roll in under the bows of my ship,

one column of water follows another.




Relaxing, I drink tea

bright as sunlight, the russet color of the flower in your lapel,

your legs splayed open on square tiled floor.


the fragrant tea opens the space

between your arm, the fold of your neck,

your toenails painted dark tea color


Remind me to sip...

Slow each gulp

I see the lap of tea’s land rising up green in early morning,

the buds of tea leaves shrink

every roof, every mountain, lifting up this dew,

white clouds coming to wrap around my thoughts.


I’ve nearly finished drinking the cup of tea

imagine only white clouds,

your face appearing and disappearing,


happiness and you…


This delicious cup of tea makes me lucid,

I drink in the white cloud,

The color of your toenails tea color, appearing and

disappearing as they walk past.




You whispered those meaningless words

that I always understand, hear so clearly

blue sky, feet on the grass,


the richness of the land,

your darkness,

touches each of my toes.




My breath warmed up the cold phone, and you asked me “Had breakfast yet? What are you doing? Remember to sit up straight.” I answered vaguely, putting my hand on the desk. Your voice murmured. The electric-fan at low speed blew wind across the room. The wide desk. The narrow door. “If I stretch out my hand I can touch everything.” I said. “Vases of flowers this morning are fresh”. It was your voice. The echoes were yours, violet flowers, surrounded by tiny foliage. I listen to you, then put away the book.


The pen and clock drift by themselves...



I want to stop by the roadside,

lie down in the grass

the sky high over me; I want to climb the tree;

looking down, I regret the sand,

crave to blend into sand.


An irresolute moment: I’m motionless.


I ignore the morning dew that swarms toward

the salty waves and sun, that rushes to

pull me, stretched out, like a chariot to tear my body into pieces


Before I put the book down,

It’s like trying to calm down while waiting for the butcher’s command


The sad water-drop flying up to the cloud

listen to the warm-hot egg rolling over my body,

a pair of brown sparrows hurrying to mate.





Cadence III




Dawn grows animals, fruit trees, the noise;

fuchsia, impatiens, fresh and pure.


Dawn’s color sinks into the ground,

melting in a great wave,

reflecting the green arched leaves.

The silvereye preens(6).


The chest of chamois expands

behind the back of dawn.




Everyday jobs are boring.

The body worn out,

the mind unfounded,

the joints exhausted on a chair.


This hand, the left hand to be exact,

wearily opens the gate I left ajar early morning;

I gently brandish it when bird shit happens to fall on it.


And the remaining hand

rose up an hour ago

when everybody voted,

There is something that must be recorded in the report.


And the legs, forgetting which one was which,

strode along while the sun still slanted;

in front of me, a lot of strangers,

behind my back, the voices of strangers.


When I hear half of one sentence over the phone;

I know I went astray.


The sound of water from the crest of the quiet cascade

you’re connecting two peaks of the world.




A photograph of forest’s edge

above a coverlet of grass;


Clouds crossed directions,

stormy and sunny together,

almost rainless, a little cold.


Mark each blade of grass

ten years...

thirty years...

ask the grass to reprint this photo.


I’m taking the picture now, ok?

The holding hand has waited too long.




I’m embracing your shoulder like a necklace

you told me: don’t ever let go;

suddenly impulsive, you laugh and talk.


You’re like a gemstone iridescent in the light,

or a piece of wood carved with the figure of a sacred beast, your own icon.


I worry that you must carry too much:

I run after you

When you tiptoe, or gently hold with your hand,

your skirt flies up in the early sunlight,

the pattern fades onto your brown leather bag.


But someplace else I’m embracing your shoulder

a silence necklace waiting for you to sleep




The body consecrates itself

with a sweet and musk fragrance.


You are the bulbul bird;

my pursed lips empty out,


and flapping wings

hold me in your mouth and set to sowing the seeds.




This cup of coffee makes everything duskier;

the voices of birds make harmony,


coffee soaking into my skin, my flesh;

Chip chiu

Chip chiu


I fold my arms, relax.

Suddenly the birdsong hangs me up

by the bird’s nest

of dry straw stems

in that crack in the loosened stone

under the roof tiles.


Suddenly your voice,

in the still time of imagination

after the chip chiu, a mother bird

- suddenly - is flying out of my body.




On your desk everything is displayed;

briefcase , a newspaper, keychain,

cell phone.


Quickly glancing at the clock,

eating sweet cakes you lean back,

a glass of water in your hand.


Your belongings familiar

silent like a train pausing in the station

before its shuddering pushes along the rails


briefcase, newspapers, the keychain, cell phone..

coupled like train cars

running monotonously

till, urgently, they brake.





Cadence IV




Often I wake wondering if I’ve come home on leave,

like a pupil in the summer holidays

far away from the worries of yesterday.


We slept as deeply as two bottles tightly corked,

two matchsticks jostling in a matchbox.

two pictures in one frame

two bits of memorabilia kept in the dark chest,

two rivets smashed deep into on the wall.


I find your hand and gently hold it

Suddenly the crest of the hill, surprised, touches the new day

an un-budded bough,

a boat loose from a rope untied.


Like nets that have dived deep into the water

each knot drying out now under the dawn.




Today I still haven’t got your message. I’m getting lost in the leaves, the laughter, and the salty wind... Opening the door, I look out. No one clinging to the path drifting in the afternoon. No one holding back the train-whistle that spreads across the land. The whistling only touches me, and does not pass me. Behind me, only silence. Everything drifting as it continues in the drifting.


But when you raise your voice, the whistle starts again; faster, although, I know the train is past the station, already too far away.




July is busy

You wake up in red blaze of dawn


Tear off the calendar sheet’s important dates

(except you, are not important)


The warble of a bird behind the red wall

flares up like a streak of oil


a streak of sunshine flashing across my messages.

Hard at work knitting each mesh,

a small fish passes through my words...

... calm down, don’t boil over with anger...




Lying side by side, we fall asleep

dreaming a field with deep well

our hands continuously drawing up each bucket of water


the resonance of the land

tree roots softly stretching,

a flower blooming where we watered it.


For a long time we water, throughout the whole field,

thinking and pulling, faster and tirelessly,


the spring’s cascade unblocked, dripping wet

it finds its way throughout the rows of paddy laden with grain.




You also told me about your dream

not just of wells but of a whole canal full of water

you piling up each bundle of golden rice

pushing me away like a small boat


Holding hands in sleep

we both dream of holding the oar,

leaning close against the gunwale.




A small umbrella capsizing in the wind,

reeds flowers lying down to endless pasture.

Your thin fabric floating up and disappearing --


the wind’s struggle flaps the umbrella canopy

Who’s this stranger who wants to drag you away?




Like a little ant in your world

I could be crushed beneath a broken rock

under a shoe heel.

pierced by a drill tip, a hoe blade,

scorched by a soldering stick,

dragged by the screech of the iron wheel,

burned in a forest fire,

turn to ash in the center of the thunder strike.


Knowing so...


because of knowing so

whether upon the hilltop

or in the deepest cave,

I’m incarnated into myriad species of ants

proudly swarming over your body.




From above, you’re a fish stabbed through with fish spear, a bird shot by a bullet

the slow-motion rhythmical dance of a blooming flower


the warm water that opens the ritual of purification,

rolling me slippery, the necklace falling to pieces


arch bosom dropping fruit that almost falls,

flood swept, collapsing rock, a tumbled hill,


A beast that rips the rope that binds it,

space crushed into aromatic milk, sweet nutrient,

erect breasts succulent tense,

rearing all the babies of the world.




My fingers paddle in the water

there’s such space around here, lakes everywhere,

tumultuous palisades, gateways, clouds shading

those hidden houses far away.


The water border spreads out into memory.

The words you speak are sometimes far away, sometimes closer,

my hand swimming across the current.


My lips glide softly past

the red teal, the ducks on the lake

kissing deep... kissing deep...

... the circles of ripples, chasing one another to forever

far away.


And the water turning over

in lapping cadence, slosh-slosh, slosh-slosh


Together in silence listening to the white lotuses

emerging bright,

rise up into Cintamaya-panna(7).





Cadence V




You advise me, though wherever I rest

imagine that I’m lying on a water hammock


eyes closed, the waves rushing over,

streaming down from the top of a blurry mountain

the crown of a coconut tree suddenly greener

or a flap of sunlight slanting away.


Under my back flat ground, hardwood,

sharp thorns, pointed rocks.


Imagine that by accident, you drop your hand

my hammock would break off, I’d be a sinking wreck

leaving on the sky a swirling abyss of clouds.




The dream stretches over soft grasses

the arch of my breastbones,

Ardent breathing in, the smell of our land.


Touching each other, we listen to land retreating

The road faraway, with its trees and leaves sleeps peacefully,

wakes and protects us,

holding tight to my heel.




The rain glistens on your body

flowers and plants euphoric with dance

freely shout to the wide high blue sky

their silent imaginings.


The boiling water screams, the bear scorched with flames,

secretes bile and honeycomb

every tapering claw


broken, squeezed dry,

the fragments trickling down.


Raining with sweat, our hair sticks together in endless nature,

our smooth skin sprouting fur.




Your shoulders remind me of an antique sculpture.

I hide our secret in a bookshelf

How the haughty hill

lifts me up in the gale,

The bridge over months and days

where children keep their enigmas.

The flutter of soft grasses, the tender dream

swaddles me, as warm blanket covers a newborn.




I have crept into the dark entrails of the earth,

into that serene underground circuit.

It was hoe plow germination...

I am patient as a cricket burrowing,

Like a night heron digging into fog in search of prey;

I am the echoing cry of the water-hen looking for its

Mate in the summer noon.




Sliding our bodies into each other,

throwing on each new stick of fire-wood,

you and I together light up the dark.


Waves of hair, shoulders, arch of breast--

the tongue twists in its final extermination.


Molten iron and steel pour into the molds

thrusting down in water, reverberating, exploding.

The tinkling sound plowing on the ground.




Kiss me and hold my hand!


The sound of wind chimes covers everything.

The leaves can’t stop,

the wind blows thatched roofs inside out,

just mounds of rice straw,

snatching my hair, tearing my shirt.


Leaning my head on you, I cradle you up!


Waves push against the slender dam

the target flies out at once to catch the range of the stray bullet,

the light is choked, seeping around the vent

and gusts of fire plunge upward to the summit at the moment of rebirth.




The dewy lips holding the flap of wet grass

Fly quickly to follow the tower wall.

I break you, braid you into rope,

a tongue swallowing deep to my chest

to the spine

till it touches my heel.




Breath, space, heat

cuddled by bird wings;

each fragile egg


breaks out in the hatching,



I hide in your shell, groaning


Rummaging, throwing up sharp waves,

flooding deep, crushing sweet fruit,

slowly sucking the freezing popsicle;

A large teapot poured into small cups.

An almond chewed delicious by stumpy teeth.





Cadence VI




I kiss you as if sucking out all the shadows of night

freshly cracking the over-ripe fruit;

The dwarf bamboo puts forth more joints

fire stoked up by the poker,

the blue crab that changes his shell before dawn.


Inside of you is me

a muntjac fawn newborn on the wet grass

a bowl of water evaporating, the steam curling upward

a world hastening to perfect itself.




Erecting itself

the tree canopy photosynthesizes the sun,

leaf overlaps leaf,

springing up, breathing together a stream of sap,

blood from the land running up through its feet.


Stretching wide

The tree’s shade spans to the tip of leaf-vein.




You cling to me, floundering, gaze at me

As the burning pain bursts the blooming buds,

raindrops sprinkled over grass,

the young bamboo shoot stretching the soft surface of the earth.


Your hips are a half of a fresh cut cake,

a spoon lifting you up from the plate,

the deep lips quivering, the sweet abyss


I am mouth with teeth clasping,

the eagle seizing with its talon,

the tiger, the panther twisting its awesome flanks, rebounding,

a poisonous snake that sucking delivers warm venom,

the great tree uprooted in the flood, pressing against your sandbank.




the light turned off, the dark

immeasurably black, it’s up to the vitality of this sail

crossing the giant storm with you

sponges softly unfolding


the tongue like fire’s frenzied burning

our lips wavering and shaking,

forever withstand the force of wind,


kisses that hold the immense fragrance of night

bearing me away to the infinite shore

to return upside down

as the boat shudders, you hear creaking.


covered with grass blades,

the sea wind held strong fragrance of a mother’s womb

navel-string sucking each sweet fiber

strangled, sinking deep, drowning,

the shores finally grab hold of your foot.

I am naive enough to, know that I have lived.




and as I hold you

in my arms you sing


... the sunbeam has drifted from the riverbank into the marsh, guiding the grasses and trees, flowing among the glory of the cornhusks, the velvety yellow, the young rice seedlings in their solid green, the pines cheering in the sweet wind...


Your finger motionless in my hair

you asked me what I’m remembering, what I’m thinking


... the little children who left the nursery, the leaves falling lightly, how they  separate

like money, the wise obliquely crossing the foolish, going along with this, listening to a sincere voice makes us burst out crying...


And you’re kissing me and singing


... the tiny buds sprouting in moist soil, the bees returning to make honey, together in a tremulous voice, the pubescent moon ripe the cycle of rivers rushing into choppy seas, the dream of wandering aimlessly... Uh oh...




Diving into the water seeing the birds hustling,

flapping wings and screeching,


I hold onto a fragrance,

a bird’s rustle,

a feather


The sea is in labor,

the squid, a star drifting into another incarnation,

reverses the currents of the sea

flattens the water’s surface


I stood at the cracked sandy edge, near the flotsam

a pair of brown stockings no longer rolled in those shoes,

sunglasses found far away from the hat.


I hold my breath because I know the treasure is nearby;

I keep looking; try to open each water door.





Cadence VII




You wake me up by the familiar words

It’s today already!


Throw aside pillow and blanket for another dawn:

this is the honest meaning of the everyday sentence.

A cup of aromatic tea to dispel drowsiness;

the puppet newly tied stretching the wire


Open the door, take a deep breath;

kick-start the motorcycle

the engine sounds softer today.


Are you pulling the strings somewhere to speed up

every motion?


Wind chimes vibrating though there’s no wind

ripe fruit self-peeling tidy on the plate,

the panic sound of a kingfisher struggling violently in dream-sleep


Alone in this desolate alley,

I wave my hand to salute the difference of yesterday


It’s day already!

I’m in motion

And you’re dubbing.




The crowd wearing my face

suddenly rushes up to

then stands transfixed


in the light that defines the face,

and the music


At the moment the crater is about to erupt,

the shotgun pumped and ready for the trigger,

The quarry escapes, by turning into the other path.


As midnight moonlight falls sparkling

Into cups of salvation for the multitude.


A mother gibbon gives birth to her baby in the time of childbearing

one hand hanging onto a branch,

she swings over the deep abyss


The world is silent

but for the gentle sound of a flute

that comes from you.




Multi-personalities divide in the dance --

I, I and I...

I see you throw down a hat,


... poison grass sprouts up in the holy land

... defying its place of birth and growing up

... interference: an electronic wave, hunch, clairvoyance


I, I and I...

You were silent, judging the innocent.


... I’m a sharp knife, sneaky tension,

... slowly, heavily, flying back to you

... knowing I will get you in the end



... don’t focus any more energy on this

(someone backstage is picking up the hat).




When alone I thought:

I’m half of a fruit

half of a singing bird

half of a deep cave

a part of the noise

half of a fish

a corner of the hull

half of the silent connection

to a plain surface…




... I step on the edge of a ditch full of water a row of trees called riot picking up the seed of northeast wind unceasingly pressing on the white canvas sketching your portrait the colors still not yet dry, paint then erase, the sketch not yet finished, revolving in every direction still feeling the cold wind blowing in slanting me back to you.




A tumbler on the desk

whenever I get tired I look at the water surface


Flicking gently on the brim of the tumbler makes it rouse;

Makes me remember, I’m moping in a narrow room.

Outside, the babel of the early sun,

the wind spreads further through this wasteland

and further away still...


Far away...

Like a Russian matryoshka

Opens to show the smaller

Smaller, and smallest...


In a game


you come to open the door of my room

and see your matryoshka, reading his book.




- Let’s stay awake through the night!

- ............

- To see what?

- ............

- The skirts of late summer

- ............

- Stirring the stem and bough

- ............

- Your arm balancing the scenery

- ............

- Open the thorny fence

- ............

- You don’t see the star

- ............

- Vaguely trembling

- ............

- You’re incubating that handful of sand on your chest!

- ............

- The crystal light

- ............

- In the giant black shadow of the furnace

- We’re throwing handfuls of sand into the dark night.




Lay your hand on me

a soft root in moist soil,

the face of naive leaf.


Teach me how to spell things:

this is a bowl and chopsticks

this is the floor, shoes, sandals

the sun

too many sounds of water


water dripping…dripping... tide surging... water flowing swiftly...


My body is a country of waterfalls and rapids

the rushing heart flowing away.


Soaked in water the sun has cooled down,

suds of the phosphorescent waves

floating, drifting, following the current of water.





Cadence VIII




Last night I had a dream again: you pulling me as if windsurfing.

the shadow of your feet slender, elongated on the water’s surface


Waves swerving aside,

I’m holding your hand tightly,

your face quivering in the wind.


You call out to the contrary wind:

    - you’ve got enough inertia, fly by yourself,


I somersault through wind and water

shrimp, seaweed and fish

white clouds and sun

all memories with fantastic illusions.


Tilting to the left

I close my eyes, spin to the right, turn on a roundabout;

I’m a veteran athlete

the number one seed.



Idol of the audience’s heart,

a circus on the water.


I calm down and recall

All the spectators have your face.




I wake up among the blossoms of the box-fruit tree, still half asleep

the sea outside still sleeping,

the sand shore stretching to the foot of clouds


Your breathing monotonous like the sound of the waves

releases soft mesh that sinks to the beginning of the dawn.


A row of trees bury their roots down in my daydream,

their shade wandering, overlapping.


The clumsy fish wake up early

Swim gently

gently waving their tails

dropping themselves into the net of daybreak.




Strong winds inflamed your throat

the sound on the phone is not clear

it’s just you whispering, whispering...


I heard that noise from a rock on the shore,

the waves were whispering, whispering too...


This hand-shaped cloud wants to grab me.

I don’t know where to escape, there’s strong wind and a huge sea


I cling to the rock.


This seascape fades me out;

only the waves know how to speak,

keep whispering, whispering...


The vague sound frightens me


with the sea, the hand-shaped cloud

you too convey a lost voice in the wrong season.


The sea goes back to whispering, whispering.




The lampshade is gray

the lamp stand is brown

you far away from the lamplight, I do not see.


Just like a telepathic losing his ability

despite being kindled I must add a flame.


The hairpin transcends the dome-port

throws a coin into the mouth of a wishing-well

the bee fills up the pistil,

the fish pulling the float just disappeared.


Where are you now? Please light up a lamp so I can see.




At noon I lie face down in the lake

drop floating,


let the waves sharpen on my body,

grabbing my back, squeezing and raking my shoulders


The scepter hard as iron rises to usurp;

the ground here is moving

mountain and hill, the surface of the water undulating.


The land resounds, rumbling,

cracks wide open, each seam of ore opencast

a dog howls, in a thick hoarse voice.


Still we understand each other, yet have forgotten
the voices

 we loved. Consecrated voices.

The sound I lived for.




The new sun, peaceful;

the areca leaf softly falling

the cooling wind

the corn being pollinated


Closing eyes, towering temples, lofty mountains;

the sound of a hammer pile driving on concrete deep down into the ground;

a champagne cork flying up to the ceiling

the fragrant wine spilling on the floor

the glasses transparently clear.


Crushed into powder in a stone mortar

a chunk of bones yell in the stew pot.


Quiet beside you

the tower,

the imposing stone mountain.


Breath like the fluttering rain

of yellow powder from the pine trees lightly covering me

a warming wind rustles in my mouth.

The rice grain buckles its body.




Beside you I perform the ceremony for the sun

for the waterfall, the great river,

my shadow on the water’s flowing sound.


The calf rubs in his mother’s lap

The puppy comes close, then runs zigzag around your legs


The glittering sword thrusts down into the ground,

craving the sound of a massive explosion, the nap

of high tension cables broken,

the levee shattered, the flood overflowing the plains.




The worm buckles its body down into the moist soil,

the kestrel somersaults in mid-air.


I’m blinded with passion; I can’t distinguish your hand from my legs,

my breath gets lost in your disheveled hair,

I’m thrown up on the foam of a whirlpool,

a giant python swallowing its helpless little prey.


My chest swelling to the brim with milk

longing to be caressed, cherished, nursed;

my body slowly cools down,

hair flowing,

the lake of virginal waters opening.




Together we become a trunk

our vitality rolled up into one body.


Wood-grain hatched out over so many rings;

I hold tight the creek flowing from its source

Stretching far away under the high boughs, under the low hanging boughs.


The tall trees stand transfixed,

opening up their buds, sprout their eyes, their lips open


in a question “Do you love me or not?”

Suddenly the wind is blowing violently everywhere,

our bodies swaying, our hair flying.


Be quiet for the flock of perched brown sparrows--

but the wind startles them, they suddenly fly off.





Cadence IX




On the immense surface of the earth, the tongue of the wind presses

its chaotic body - the crown of my head at the center of whirlwind.

The tighter I grasp, the stronger the shaking and jerking, the hoarse

howling and screaming, vacillating, urging, keeping the dried leaf tight in your mouth.

the more we strive, the more we talk nonsense - in the anxious nightmare,

the path of passionate kissing, the more we move in this freshness,

leading me by the hand to the mouth of the abyss,

mumbling how we can’t ever part from each other,

because we’re both so afraid of the deep, which leaves us in a cold sweat.

We turn upside down sticking tight together,

the flowers blooming and bearing buds, the leaves hanging down,

protecting the dry branches, dangling, tantalizing,

thunder, lightning for eyes seeing out through the pouring rain.

Calmly I show you the Breath breathing, panting in and out suddenly

the bell rings, bringing together every sound

sound of you and I…with the wind-bell.




Slip through the stylized fence,

the pointed paling that divides the world into two equal sides.

In front is another dimension.


The coiling body in the green light,

slowly dropping down, is a wild-beast symbol

of passionate flesh

(Lights off. Applause)


Running through a bright circle of lights,

those creatures worry about gestation,

suckling, being fed through mother’s mouth, finding the way to cry

(Knocking resounds backstage).


I sneak in from the other side of the fence,

A streak of colourless light, slipping under my feet.

Plant a warning sign, plant a milestone.


All I have is the image of your

hand, dangling a drop of dew,

your eyes so expressive, the trace of water on the ground.




I want to write verses as natural

as the way you walk on the ground.


So look at me


Imitating a fashion model, a Miss....

The word “One” (8) falls down too easily --

how about the word “Eight” (9)?

I walk the words out, they look terrible, you disparage them,

desire is not so easy.


Don’t think about the footstep, you say.

Just rely on me, and then step.


“I’m right here... I’m right here...” you say.

Like a toddler I’m following along with you step by step.




I cover my eyes

on the long kilometers of  road,

till the joy of dewfall and closing of the door

many ideas pass by.


I still see you

in the narrow space between two houses--

you walk faster than I imagine

and the sun’s not yet burning..


Your hand reaches through the narrow slit of sunset,

to hand me a bright gift.


I’m so happy to open it up,

meet thought I had forgotten.




I kiss you once, light one more candle,

put them together.


I’m like the wick filament at the heart of a candle

a bright twist of hair--

to make a fire that spreads through

the foundation of our house

drifting in the night of garlands and lanterns


I’m the one who, luckily, dropped wishes by

early in the morning.


The sound of children shouting,

competing with each other

to place candles in our room.


“Please kiss me again!” You said




I drink all the fragrance --

you’re so tiny in the sharp fang and claw,

calling for help, calling my name

a wild beast hungry and thirsty


The open pincer that grips too tightly

tears off a finger. The lips of wild animal ,

counting in rhythmic jerks with frequent jolts

One... two... three... confusing and dulling...


And the number five resounding endless

a seed breaking off in the moist soil,

a trunk just sawed through.

a sharp axe splitting the wood’s thick body,

calling each other’s name, like the first time we met.




The chamois stampede down to the plain

throwing up dust behind them, avalanching rocks

flying swift as an arrow

the instant it snaps from the bowstring.


Here are grassy skies

a grassy ocean,

softly stirring with the words of rivers and lakes.


The arrow flies downwind to reach the target,

the flaps of grass trimmed, flattened, bent,

crushed between sharp teeth.


The broken sky sounds the call to the flock, to the pleasure of the black night

step by step, the chamois


The grass sprays ardor everywhere,

the thrill of the time of  heaven and earth creation

the new season waiting for reaping, of green grass closer to the root.


Those claws shear through grass roots, taut, pressing,

tender grass now shaking

with more buds yet to reopen wide horizons.




(1) Mothergate - Mother in this poem does not mean “mother” as normal. It carries the meaning of “the Way”, the “philosophy of belief.”. As: “The Way that can be told of is not an unvarying way; The names that can be named are not unvarying names. It was from the Nameless that Heaven and Earth sprang; The named is but the mother that rears the ten thousand creatures, each after its kind” (Lao-tzu).


(2) A kind of gibbon (vọoc chà vá chân xám or ‘vọoc Java (?) chân xám’) Scientific name: Pygathrix cinerea.


(3) Cốm: green rice flakes, green rice; grilled rice. A Vietnamese special traditional snack make from young sweet rice. Rice growing farmers are the only ones who truly understand when it is time to gather young grains to make Cốm. Then young rice grains are harvested, roasted and ground down to become Cốm. They are put into a large firing pan under small flames and stirred slowly for a specific period of time. They are then poured into a rice mortar and slightly pounded with a wooden pestle, rhythmic pounding and at quick intervals until the husk is removed. Following this, the young rice is removed from the mortar and winnowed before being poured again into the mortar and the process repeated. This is then repeated exactly seven times so that all the husk is removed from the young sticky grains. If the pounding is done irregularly and in haste, or it is not repeated for the prescribed seven times, the green colour of the grains will disappear and be replaced by an unexpected brown colour. Cốm is regarded as a purely pastoral gift. To enjoy Cốm, it is advisable to chew it slowly so that one can feel the stickiness of the young rice and at the same time enjoy its sweet, fragrant taste. Visitors to Vong village (about five km from Hanoi) during the Cốm making season will have a chance to listen to the special rhythmic pounding of wooden pestles against mortars filled with young rice and see women shifting and winnowing the pounded young rice.


(4) According to the Theravadan Buddhism, there are three modes of attaining moral wisdom:

Attaining moral wisdom from reading, hearing and instruction—Attuning wisdom based on learning.

Cintamaya-panna: Attaining moral wisdom from reflection—Attaining wisdom based on thinking.

Attuning moral wisdom from practice of abstract meditation (attuning wisdom based on mental development).


(5) Sukhavati (Sankrit): The central doctrine of the Pure Land sects is that all who evoke the name of Amitabha with sincerity and faith in the saving grace of his vow will be reborn in his Pure Land of peace and bliss. Thus, the most important practice of contemplation in the Pure Land sects is the constant voicing of the words “Namo Amitabha Buddha” or “I surrender myself to Amitabha Buddha.”


(6) A kind of bird, also call White-eyes or Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis).


(7) According to the Theravadan Buddhism, there are three modes of attaining moral wisdom:

Attaining moral wisdom from reading, hearing and instruction—Attuning wisdom based on learning.

Cintamaya-panna: Attaining moral wisdom from reflection—Attaining wisdom based on thinking.

Attuning moral wisdom from practice of abstract meditation (attuning wisdom based on mental development).


(8) and (9) : “Nhất”: mean number (1) One in Vietnamese, in Chinese: - ;“Bát”: number (8) eight in Vietnamese, in Chinese.

Biography of Trần Nghi Hoàng


Writer, poet, translator, literary studies. Trần Nghi Hoàng lived in America for over 30 years, returning to reside provisionally in Hội An from 2008. Author of 17 books and nearly 10 works in completed work yet published... Latest book: Thầy Vua (Lao Động publishing 2010, with co writer Nguyễn Thụy Kha). He translated William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, Pablo Neruda, Garcia Lorca…





Biography of Frederick Turner


Frederick Turner, Founders Professor of Arts and Humanities at the University of Texas at Dallas, was educated at Oxford University. A poet, critic, translator, philosopher, and former editor of The Kenyon Review, he has authored 30 books, including Natural Classicism, The Culture of Hope, Genesis: An Epic Poem, April Wind, Hadean Eclogues, The New World, Shakespeare's Twenty-First Century Economics, Paradise, Natural Religion, and Two Ghost Poems. With his colleague Zsuzsanna Ozsváth he won Hungary’s highest literary honor for their translations of Miklós Radnóti’s poetry. He has been nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature internationally over 40 times.





Thiết kế bìa sách, do Nxb. Hội Nhà văn ấn hành 2010: Họa sỹ, Thi sỹ Nguyễn Quang Thiều


Bản Việt ngữ tại:

Tập thơ BẦU TRỜI KHÔNG MÁI CHE, Nxb. Hội Nhà văn, 2010







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