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Poetry by Mai Van Phan

Thursday, 26/09/2019 11:12

Drifting in Silence

In a mute cavity
Iam drifting in silence among others

I press my ear to the bright outline
to overhear them in vain
only trembling contorted gestures
based on their eyes and lips
I assay it’s either repentance
or proclamation

Memories slow in total deafness
a black wall rises up
the riverbanks fill with fog
their arteries snap
the wax figures
wipe black fire from their eyes

With an ancient soundproof wall
and today’s profound deafness
we see each other through them
the more we call out
the farther we are apart

Looking at each other
You and I
drifting in lightning speed
we pound on empty space before us.


A Door’s Screech

It echoes in my dream as thunder
on my old bed
the vast land reappears
the smell of exhausted soil rises in opaque rain
mixing in with mat and blanket sweat
a bowing crane
sinks into the slack net of basin
among gentle slopes of freshly ploughed furrows
sediments fill my ears
shrimps and fish stir in my palms
people’s strides slash the soil and crumble the riverbanks
trying to regain my composure I flashback in delirium
before the thunder is the sound of pickaxes
and before that
trees taking root down in the gorge
thunder spreads with no echoes
connected to the depth of a narrow edge
a door’s screech sounds off
opening a pathway.

Rhythms Compose the Way

One’s memory stirs
Where shades have deeply buried shades
Rottenness thirsts for the calamity of fire
Stars sleepwalk
Falling into thin dew

Bitter leaves crawl over scalding coals
In their breath pine leaves shroud pine cones
Someone is putting away his traveling case

Shadows that hide in antique objects
Still tremble in fear when their names are called
Tears blur the epochs

In an irrational movement
The ground lies on its belly to support the levee
A stream of white smoke rises up
A fall pours down from layers of dying leaves

Deep tombs open in one’s chest
Revealing the arterial paths
Corrupted by many inverted rooftops
With stains on the lime-washed web-ridden walls
Inside which the dull tapping sounds
Urge a run towards the door.


Summer is Near

The paths are condescending
A statue wrapped tightly in the scent of aquilegia
Disappears without a trace
A drizzle inhales and exhales

Covering his mouth, she says:
- Don’t sing any more lyrics that have become carbon dioxide!
Turned off
He follows a plough that is floating in fog

Buffalo horns rise up from dark corners
Lift up the soil so grass can grow
Blow warm air into decay
Agonizing souls demand to reincarnate
A dog’s tail waves a small alley’s flag.
A house is dreaming to wear another house upon itself
Birds that hear a gun cocking among trees hide in a cloud roasting in the frying pan of sunset
Shipworms choked on smoke open their mouths to discuss the immortality of water and the transience of ships
A bear hugging a beehive drops from the treetop to where a trap has been set

Buffaloes bulge up within the ground
When the rope of time is stretched
It explodes on the hard surface

Fire rises high from the clouds
Souls are cremated for the last time

Someone is stretching out his arms
And speaks endlessly without making a sound.

From Raindrops

Through the air with so many perspectives
Raindrops fall sharp and pointed
The light blue sky has been blemished
In an instant the usual horizon is wiped to a blur

Hesitating to break, some raindrops fall inside me
Turn into pebbles running all over my body
The roar of blood in my mercury hand
Is flesh and bones or smoldering limestone

It bubbles. It crackles. It’s smashed
Heat rises up to the sky in a rage
Anxiety no longer has any meaning
Change has surpassed capacity

No time to reflect, no time to fathom
I am sunk by the rain, washed away with it
Suddenly I see myself in others’ cries
Their mouths the shape of fetuses, seeds, and stamens…

The Voice

When waking up
I believe I hear a voice
I don’t yet know from where it comes
Or goes

Perhaps the stream outside is about to flow in torrents
Flower stamens can now bind the bee’s feet
Lips desire to be legs to run over skin
A covetous tongue of fire lunges for the hay

Is this all it takes
To give birth to a voice
To contradict topics and definitions
I have heard or understood?

When I wander and get lost in an old place
The land there still eats silence with every meal
The silence that is torn by my teeth startles me
When I turn and run
There is no sound made by my feet.

A Day

I sneak between traps set in my dream, and arrive at the window the same moment as dawn. Daylight covers wedges of grass just woken. The playground opens on a bleak surface. Each morning arrives just once, so you can’t choose to play old games. I stretch my arms while waiting for sunlight to drop warm cables, so as to crawl across the abyss to reach the other side.

No safety net. There are only sharp spikes and dangerous stones below. As my thoughts and body exploring, the wind blows me with up-turned leaves. A large cloud gets lost. A persistent bird makes its nest on a shaking branch, and an imperturbable worm chews on a leaf which is falling into light beaming from the horizon.

The ocean is just behind a small alley’s mossy stone walls. Trees murmur, pebbles grind against each other. The sound of water pouring into each cup, repeats the sound of a big surging wave stranded. I’ve got to go... so the waves of leaves, pebbles and water foam surge up once more and collapse behind me.

Arrows of Darkness

From my imagination
And ambition
I draw out arrows
And go in search of the day’s target

Around me some immobile ones
Over here lotus shoots receding to the lake bottom
Over there naked children running into me
More than forty years ago
I aim at those as if in a dream

Arrows sketch their lightning flights
Through space and time
Through philosophies and world visions
I believe I have hit my targets

When I look down at my feet
I see darkness overlaying thicker at dusk
Suddenly I see so many holes -
Lanterns light up on the river.

Photos, Fruit and Dreams

Under-exposed photos, speed-ripened fruit and dreams that lose their wings before the rain, flow slowly against the current of memories.
A wind blows open morning fields, rushes into rooms full of blended dust and light, wipes sweat off freshly bathed dreams.
The origins are within the span of a hand, when you come back you have gone through your entire life, or you wait to reincarnate into the next life.
Those souls that have yet to reincarnate, visit worshipping places, fly aimlessly, then shelter in fixed idolatry.
Someone runs across the dreams, the fruit and photos, to recover what he lost, to feel each tear choke back and see the amalgam of each shadow.
Origins have renewed space, and a generation of young grass is spreading over old ground.
Souls stand at new angles opening to different lights, and in the moan of fresh dew, they pause and knock on each vowel.
Everywhere new streams are beginning to pour into memories, taking the photos, the fruit, the dreams, to turn everything into a voice last night.


Translated from Vietnamese by Nhat-Lang Le

Edited by Susan Blanshardf


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