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Poetry Corner

 

Chatting With My Old Schoolteacher

 

The restive horse, alive and kicking yet,

set off to travel, following the times.

He meant to see new lands and thus forget –

but toward his country he still turns his gaze.

 

He thirsts for contact with some kindred soul.

He craves the scent he smelled in soft, smooth hair.

Oh, how he dreams of gleaming eyes far off,

of that hot breath which burned his heart, his guts.

 

He toils and moils, surrounded by a world

of strangers who avert their eyes, their ears.

A man must hustle, scrounging food and clothes,

forever doomed to play the hanger-on.

 

His old schoolteacher’s now bow-backed, gray-haired—

along the eyelids linger cares and griefs.

He had his heyday swaggering—oh, it’s gone!

But what on earth have those two hands achieved?

 

The teacher shyly clasps the student’s hand.

What wind has blown us two together here?

We wanderers meet abroad—it’s joy enough.

You must feel sad about an exile’s life.

 

Past days and months are stirring in your mind.

You miss your youth, long for those verdant years.

Your feet trod jungles, trampled red-hued earth—

“The people’s revolution!”, cried your mouth.

 

When “revolution’ came, why did you flee?

You knew all Marxist-Leninist thought by heart.

So many adolescents you destroyed—

do you feel happy now on alien soil?

 

A college campus bored the restive colts—

he spurned young grass that felt so cool, smelled fresh.

He donned a red beret and roamed the wilds,

with love of his fair homeland in his heart.

 

For “revolution,” joining its maquis,

some hoped to mend the heavens like Nü Wa.1

Uncowed by bullets, they all sallied forth—

but manly grit could just hold out a while.

 

Some looked down on a noncom’s stripes, stayed home

and learned the way of life from Bachelor Xöông.2

Religion others chose, becoming monks,

eschewing love and all its earthly scents.

 

How can I tell them all, things past and gone?

Such griefs and woes! Enough to fill a sea.

If outwardly I live, within I’m dead—

the world I yearn for lies beyond my reach.

 

This foreign land, dear teacher, owns much wealth—

with cash all creature comforts can be bought.

I only lack a little thing or two:

my father’s face, my mother’s tender voice.

 

Imbibing all her milk, I once grew up.

Under his roof I once became a man.

Her vast devotion matched the skies, the seas.

His love was like Mount Taûn, the river Ñaø.3

 

Vietnam, our land, is poor, an utter wretch,

but it gives us the taste of human love.

All its three parts share one stream of red blood.

How sweet it sounds, the lilt of our folk songs!

 

Bright moonlight over our Ñoàng-thaùp, Naêm-caên.4

The waters of Ñoàng-nai,5 Beloved Saøi-goøn.

The purple rice of Chaâu-ñoác and Long-xuyeân.6

What mountain boasts as many as Seven Hills?7

 

I loved to bet on horses while at school.

I flunked all subjects, history, civics, lit.

For homework I devoured those swordsmen’s tales.

And now, too late, I rue my onetime sins.

 

By day, it’s “glorious” labor—eight full hours.

By night, I drown it all in acrid booze.

At learning why have I become a sloth?

I catch mere bits and shreds of their strange tongue.

 

If we’re ill-bred, untutored, don’t blame us,

because you never taught us one damn thing!

You championed Marx and Lenin both with zeal—

well, who has wrought such havoc in our land?

 

Goodbye for now, until we meet again.

Cheer up—don’t feel so bad about it all.

The restive horse, whose legs have not worn out,

still hopes that someday he will gallop home.

 

 

(St. Louis, Dec. 22, 1978)

 

Vinh Liem

(Translated by Huyønh Sanh Thoâng)

 

1      A Chinese Goddess of antiquity

2      A Vietnamese famous poet in the late 19th century

3      The high mountain and big river in the North Vietnam

4      Two big rice fields in the South Vietnam

5      A river located in northwest of Saigon

6      Two provinces in Mekong Delta

7      Vietnamese called “Thaát Sôn”, in Chaâu Ñoác province

 

 

   Contact: Vinh Liem

                   1 Applegrath Court, Germantown, MD 20876-5613 (U.S.A.)

                   E-mail: vinhliem9@aol.com; vinhliem9@hotmail.com

 

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