Thursday, August 10, 2017




Chủ Nhật, 30 tháng 7, 2017

One of the cherished literati in pre-1975 Saigon was the writer and poet Thanh Nam. This prolific novelist was also noted for his exquisite poetry. Readers loved him because of his intellectual probity – he wrote about life as he had actually lived it. Thus, his prose and his poetry were all about real life. If we needed just one publication to introduce Thanh Nam, that would be his 1983 poetic collection “Đất khách” (In exile); and if we needed to read just one poem typical of him, that would be his “Thơ xuân đất khách” (Spring poem written in exile)

Thanh Nam wrote this poetic gem in Seattle on February 18, 1977, which was also the first day of the lunar year of the Snake (ngày tết Đinh Tỵ). This first day of the lunar year is a solemn time, during which the Vietnamese honor their ancestors, visit relatives and friends, wear nice clothes, speak benevolent language, and rejoice to the fullest.

Thanh Nam’s suffering from culture shock and nostalgia imbues the content of this poem. It is interesting to note that how political refugees cope with their new life in America has been observed by social scientists. According to them, it is a painful and complex psychological process that consists of four phases: (1) euphoria, the time during which the displaced people feel extremely glad that they have somehow received a new lease on life; (2) culture shock; (3) stability; and (4) 

acculturation. Euphoria is only short-lived and may not mean much, but culture shock could last a long time and make their new lives miserable. Its duration depends on the individuals: the older they are, the longer their culture shock will last; and perhaps suffering the most during this trying time would be the sentimental artist, whose heart bleeds easily.

An English translation of the exquisite poem appears below together with its original in Vietnamese:


The calendar leaf marking the new year nonchalantly dropped – Tờ lịch đầu năm rớt hững hờ
Reminding me that seasons had changed – Mới hay năm tháng đã thay mùa
Since the day I left as an expatriate – Ra đi từ thuở làm ly khách
Two springs of homesickness had willy-nilly gone by – Sầu xứ hai xuân chẳng đợi chờ
Drifting from the East to the North – Trôi giạt từ Đông sang cõi Bắc
The trip was a glaring load of sorrows – Hành trình trơ một gánh ưu tư
In a foreign land, expatriation gnawed at me – Quê người nghĩ xót thân lưu lạc
In an unfamiliar environment, I wondered about my journey – Đất lạ đâu ngờ buổi viễn du
 • • •

Awake or asleep it was me alone in humiliation – Thức ngủ một mình trong tủi nhục
The miles were long, my feet tired, my steps forsaken – Dặm dài chân mỏi bước bơ vơ
Like a soldier who had just been defeated – Giống như người lính vừa thua trận
I lay on the battlefield, shattered by wind and rain – Nằm giữa sa trường nát gió mưa
Eyes closed I tried to forget about my warrior life – Khép mắt cố quên đời chiến sĩ
To become a vegetable slumped on a riverbank – Làm thân cây cỏ gục ven bờ
Suddenly from the bottom of my wounded soul – Chợt nghe từ đáy hồn thương tích
I heard bugles commemorating dreams of yesteryear – Vẳng tiếng kèn truy điệu mộng xưa

• • •

Alas, home country and old friends – Ới hỡi quê hương bè bạn cũ
What was your fate amidst this calamity – Những ai còn mất giữa sa mù
We lost one another that late spring – Mất nhau từ buổi tàn xuân đó
No tidings from home, not even a letter – Không một tin nhà, một cánh thư
Pining in an endless wait for your news – Biền biệt thời gian mòn mỏi đợi
My tangled mind is like snow flurries – Rối bời tâm sự tuyết đan tơ
People have twelve months a year – Một năm người có mười hai tháng
For me, the whole long year is just one April! – Ta trọn năm dài một Tháng Tư!

• • •

Accepting two lives for one birth – Chấp nhận hai đời trong một kiếp
I am enduring the whims of a brutal tempest – Đành cho giông bão phũ phàng đưa
Reincarnated in this world – Đầu thai lần nữa trên trần thế
I will have to finish off this parasitic life – Kéo nốt trăm năm kiếp sống nhờ
Reversing the order of family and first names – Đổi ngược họ tên cha mẹ đặt
Imitating infants that babble puerile speech – Tập làm con trẻ nói ngu ngơ
Burying the past deep into the dust – Vùi sâu dĩ vãng vào tro bụi
My condition is less than that of a villain – Thân phận không bằng đứa mãng phu

• • •

The card game has not started, yet my money is lost – Canh bạc chưa chơi mà hết vốn
The chess game still has moves for me, but I must give it up – Cờ còn nước đánh phải đành thua
I want to shed tears when dreams fade – Muốn rơi nước mắt khi tàn mộng
Fathomlessly high is the price of Freedom – Nghĩ đắt vô cùng giá Tự Do

• • •

Among friends who made it to this country – Bằng hữu qua đây dăm bảy kẻ
Some are nursing grudge, others have not given up – Đứa nuôi cừu hận, đứa phong ba
Yet some are leading a complacent life – Đứa nằm yên phận vui êm ấm
Or enduring a humiliating superfluous existence – Đứa nhục nhằn lê kiếp sống thừa
While clouds and water have a chance to meet again – Mây nước có phen còn hội ngộ
Our dear friends in exile are still afar – Thâm tình viễn xứ lại như xa
This spring I welcome my approaching fifth decade – Xuân này đón tuổi gần năm chục
By getting inebriated all by myself – Đối bóng mình ta say với ta

ĐTP JUL 2017


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