PDF - WORD
By Nguyen Quoc Chanh
Selected and translated by Mong-Lan and Linh
“Seven Untitled Poems” is from
the book, Khi hau do vat (Inanimate Weather), Youth Publishing
House, 1997. “Relationships” is Mong-Lan’s translation
from “Nhung moi quan he” with nine of ten sections
of the original published in Cua can cuoc an du (Of Metaphorical
Identity), photocopy, 1990. The original of “Relationships” (Nhung
moi quan he), “Marsh Dreams”(Con Me Dam Lay), and “Revolving
Stage” (San Khau Quay) are all available at the
Specific links are given in Further
Seven Untitled Poems
Low Pressure System
A World of Sand
Wide Open Eyes
In the legends of dry springs, there are the pebbles’ intonations.
In the forest’s recollections, there is the waterfalls’ fable.
In resin singing, there is my mother’s shade.
A carp’s negative doesn’t know to speak.
A relic left over from dry ponds.
Where armies and generals of the lotus and water
lily dispute their beauty.
Where swords and sabers of ponds and swamps yearly
fight each other.
Where aquatic corpses lie, ghosts possessed with
visions of lotus and water lily.
Their beauty becomes miasma, tired and spoiled.
It is the nourishment in soil’s unconsciousness.
They blossom into flowers white and yellow.
They blossom without hands or feet.
They are spices lacking in my mother’s kitchen
She carefully puts them away, they are strong
and have the smell of mud.
From tender mud, a spongy bull frog just escaped
It croaks announcing that the grandfather carp
is still alive.
The old man is a Dragon.
From a reptile transformed, to the urgent moment
in flight, the Dragon lets drop a whisker.
A carp opens its mouth yawning sleepily, comes
upon it, stores in stomach.
When becoming a Dragon, grandfather carp wakes
up, daydreams in the reptile’s venom.
A copperhead crawls onto the roof, where the Dragon
resides, dancing circles a medium, ashamed for lack of whiskers.
The Dragon is deliberate,
emotionless, without headache or high blood pressure.
My mother drinks ancient and Western medicine,
still cannot shake off the stomachache caused by the Dragon’s whisker’s
Looking at the world of creatures, daughter, you
dream of a yellow-beaked bird.
Blue legs settle on the second hand.
Red beaks peck at each number.
1, 2, 3, the clock disappears, and time . . .
No chick sounds inside
No old monkeys knuckling young monkeys’ heads.
No insects wearing red bandages.
Not even the pestering of unfounded slogans of
this and that . . .
Three years old, you were a white rabbit.
Nine days old, you were infected in the navel.
Rabbit, 24 days you breathed in a glass cage.
When you knew to speak, rabbit, you asked to return
to the sky.
When you had diarrhea, you asked to return to
Rabbit says there, there are no adults, no red,
Only clouds feathery white, and ten thousand rabbit
flowers under moon.
Met with nightmare at 39 degrees, Rabbit, delirious,
called: Father! Snake!
Eyes unconscious stupidly opened and your face
a young leaf in boiling water.
Rabbit asked, from
where did I come, a man or a woman?
God created all things, who created God?
Father, you lied, you are a carrot, food with
whiskers to make creatures transparent.
Carrot not nightmare.
Carrot not Scar. (The
Carrot not red, black or hostage.
Daughter, you were imprisoned the day you entered
Ten hours old, you suffered a seven years’ sentence.
To keep strong, I often eat honey, don’t go out
And frequently go crazy, for once having lied
to a white rabbit.
When small, I ate
perch from the fields, thus my wife resembles ocean perch.
She swims between sharks and pink-tailed fish.
She breaths through airy salt, but is sensitive
to the smell of fish sauce.
She doesn’t determine limits between river and
She sees all objects with the slanted light of
white and black.
Unluckily for the
children, she sees black objects with eyes white and backwards.
My brother, a horse lost in the desert.
Feet, sinking in sand.
Dies, under the camel’s blazing hot load.
My younger siblings are zebras.
Some live in zoos, some on the forest’s edge.
They eat grass, live by grass.
Afraid of hair changing
to grass, and grass, to dragon’s bones.
My friend turtle has ears of a rabbit.
She became a woman when thirty because of an old
She can hear from very far away, but when close,
She likes the word, “rather,” and often sings, “Rather
water-plants . . . rather
Perhaps now she sings: “Rather . . . snow, snow, snow.”
I meet in the newspapers, in Saigon, sometimes
friends, sometimes acquaintances
They still use Hung Vuong’s intonations.
But on the slippery road of words, they usually
don’t brake in time.
That’s why their legs are lopped off, are blind,
even lose their lives over doctrine.
They are mischievous in opaque light, and naïve
under white light.
They dip their hands into cards, double-dealing.
They are spoiled and often capricious with the
numbers 6 & 8 . . .
Numbers “clear, sage,” usually spread their legs
and are raped year round.
they are shocked to death by old ladies’ menopausal hands praying
for good luck in love.
Swimming backwards, I groped into water’s tail.
Saw dead bodies from the source flow by.
Saw the un-closable swollen gills of dead fish.
The tongue’s source already taste-heavy and waves’ lips
lap false teeth.
I scrawl my tail between even sounds, every sound
is already a trap.
I am caught in a net, along with long-jawed anchovies,
I am thrown into a wooden barrel.
When wood veins acquire the smell of salt, I know
I am still breathing at the nuoc mam jar’s bottom.
I read the wanton poetry of Lady Huong, check
again the feeling of teeth and tongue: clean
teeth and sharp tongue.
Someone says: Still
have teeth, tongue, and taste.
My grandmother says: Keep
your teeth, your hair, your roots.
She also says: the
orangutan is a species that only smiles at night.
Luckily she doesn’t
know, it is a gift of prehistoric happiness.
In the broken-down shoes of those who meet with
accident, is memory creeping into a bat’s armpit.
In the past full of lice, is a meeting day in
which thousands and thousands of mouths share one tongue.
In trash’s indigestion, my father, is an animated
cartoon situation of crabs shedding claws.
A soldier of hollows.
Increasing the hollows’ depths, each soldier by
turns sheds its claws.
My father’s legacy is to dare creep out of the
To leave behind a dream inherited from earth a
past full of holes and burrows.
The earth wakes up when the linh chi mushroom
opens its eyes.
The holes and burrows know clearly from the fake
old towers just built.
Nose and mouth, towers bursting from all sides,
breathe and speak full of incense smell.
Pollution of teeth take away freedom of speech.
The food of flies long-lived never has bones.
(They measure their mouth’s pleasure from ancient
times by smell.)
of old, young, men, women, are still green in the memory of trees
Corpses of birds, fish, mouse, pig, chicken are
not buried in graves, historical mausoleums.
The truth of legends crumbles because of the innate
jesting tongue of earth.
Those who survive on lies swallow the truth into
(The road to freedom is to learn the meditative
ways of shit.)
Salt without iodine, to keep fish from spoiling,
They always say that my father’s grandmother still
is a virgin.
She is a fairy.
I reminisce for one thousand years in the womb.
I identify my father’s grandmother’s face in various
I desirously look at round large breasts, at endowed
And virginity rabbit-like, always kept between
the thighs, coquettishly.
(Scavenged from an ad from the TV, 14 inches brought
in from an electronic graveyard.)
translated by Mong-Lan,
The sun lunges forward crossing a boundary puncturing
a late sleep.
An egg hatches a sound.
I grip my own hand holding a shadow and releasing
it into a glass of water.
On the silent shore the sea of memories spares
two shells odorless and empty.
Evening holding back
a burnt mark a pictogram the pit of an eye the sun immolated,
Evening burning the
memory bank arms held in prayer the night heron calling into
with one man left behind lunging forward turning into a shadow
. . .
Feet without lamp street
without lamp the shadow is black.
Feet without lamp street
with lamp black is the shadow.
Beneath two lamps two
shadows both are black.
You ran contrariwise
from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet, a mad
woman, a primitive egg dashed against scrap metal.
You collided then reverted
to a rubbery condition a series of warped circles.
The endlessly jarring
road with its bad intentioned collisions and drowned rivers.
You ran in panic from
the woods onto a tidy stage then smiled and talked in a bisexual
Beneath the conceptual
hammer you boldly split in two rhythmically trembling on the
You chased after a
fit of excess and fell into the HIV pit.
A strange wind poured
into the fire.
You a gray smoke gathering
into clouds metamorphosing into a female bug like the woman in
the dunes adapting to a man robbed of freedom without his day
on the cross.
You a woman about to
My eyes do not register
the presence of trees animals men or even the arrogant horizon.
Inside my eyes are
only distances hierarchies dark holes black boxes zigzags and disquiets.
Daybreak frolics with
the flowers the night smile disappearing on the street.
Each person a curfew
face inside the clock the pendulum oscillates.
The briefest day I
throw away as you save the thin pleasured body.
Daybreak swallows you
in stages nibbles me to bits.
Tic toc tic toc
The horn beak pecks
at the night drum,
Two secret revealing
eyes are sliding along time’s greasy surface.
The wall displays dead
holes variously connected to the inmate.
And only the tic toc
sounds remain to count the rolling aspirins.
Night flashes its cold
teeth the mouth opens its precipices.
Shadows from cul-de-sacs
stretch and stagnate on the brick floor.
Still the tic toc sounds
pecking the dense night.
Still the rolling aspirins.
by Linh Dinh
The thumb stops breathing.
There is a sound of a dropped glass.
Needles piercing the ear.
I see water gushing from hollows in the wall.
(The house’s artery is broken.)
Water is drowning the word mouth.
A character cannot escape the death of a wet
Our character is tattooed: Small. Weak. Wicked.
Words stepping on each other trying to remove
themselves from literariness.
They float blue on the water.
Individual corpses sink to compete with bricks
and shards of glass.
The remaining fingers have headaches and runny
Memory stands then sits stringing pieces of intestines
around a hole.
I hear cries of a newborn.
A fish crawls out from a bloody hollow.
The woman closes her thighs and a corpse is covered
A laugh crawls in wiggly lines across a cheek.
Look into the thumb.
Sperms reborn in the flow of sap animating the
wild grass and flowers.
After the bee season the flowers and grass are
plowed up shredded and burnt.
The grass regrows and the sperms open their eyes.
(Even if the land is mortgaged joint ventured
or sold to another.)
The hunt is a thousand years old.
A distance only blind eyes can perceive.
Its concentrated flavor cannot be tasted by anyone
besides the moss covered tongues of turtles.
I hear wild laughs from a circus mixed with the
rhythmic prayer for the release of the souls of many female nuns.
(They are performing a circus for another world?)
A low pressure system on the hill seeps into
Termites dig up dirt inside bones.
Nests grow from the ground to resemble artistic
I carry a cemetery inside my body.
A fist missing a finger.
translated by Linh Dinh
From things the night oozes out eyes and all
The taut threads on the face of criminal justice.
Escaping heat loses abilities to ejaculate.
One’s aura is glazed over with a spreading yellow
film spilling onto the demarcation line and entering the forbidden
Sedimentary mouth sucks on pride a soapberry
lava ceases at the border of real and fake weathers.
Life stops flowing.
Everything rots to pieces only the echoes of
a linga and a yoni impassive statues gloomily reverberating.
Things declare themselves sovereigns.
The faithful let down their guards.
It’s a legal opportunity for a disorderly appearance.
Order is restored by a red malice.
An inflected voice suffers rising blood pressure
dreaming of nux vomica and empty wine bottles.
The cerebrum enacted a benign female theatrical.
The hand of monopoly nudges the god-given rights
of living things.
Skin color loses its reflex and the spool of
the past weaves a fabric to cover holes incapable of passing on
the ambition to raise the count of air-hating insects.
Staring eyes having lost their keys open and
shut at will.
Staggering mad manikins.
Each manikin hides a pig tail in Macondo (the
village in One Hundred Years of Solitude) and animal-shaped
clouds jump on each other’s backs without distinguishing between
predators and prey lions rabbits cats dogs or horses . . .
The human body opens up.
The pressures of surpluses and deficits ooze
out beyond the range of sight and
The face of lava is not in the book of divination.
The protuberance is sharp and pliable.
The hollow has a black hole element its shape
changes according to the weather
a half yawn.
Night smoothes out protuberances and fills in
Disparity aches the entire line in back of the
ears throat navel tail bone groin
an open toilet.
The savior sits.
Concepts are a constraining helmet insects catching
prey by a system of
Imagination and thoughts eternally nourished.
Man with a thick shadow does not hear the air
break to clear a road to the cemetery.
Look into one spot.
Staring and contemplating is to enter a train
car without passengers.
Imagination thrown into a blinding interval everything
A straight movement eliminates dampness and dries
out the viscera.
A shadow creakily swinging a hammock.
The sound of darkness moving drenched in lubricating
Kinship is declared through hastily carved bas-relief
where air-hating insects worship.
Product of cohabitation disobedient shard of
instinct pressures of an offshoot forest.
A curt hand.
Memory opens its compass and a train car without
The past has extra tickets.
Centuries not transported.
A fluorescent screen from a dark corner displays
in wiggly lines manikins from
century before silent films.
A vanguard manikin sticks out his slimy tongue
dun colored stinking and oozing
intermittent cracks the eternal conspiracy to infiltrate.
No images no smells no nothing.
Insects compete to sing in chorus the swamp refrain.
Can’t duck inside.
Outside still the process of train cars carrying
Two oversized thigh bones incarcerating the desert.
Dip everything into the dish-washing tub.
Eliminate the lead.
Cover up the-system-to-prevent-fire-to-the-senses.
The past is bonfires of memory an on-duty death
Two overlong ditties emit a haunting melody like
A door opens.
The secret spills out onto the street.
Insects drone and crackle.
The swamp sleeps deeply.
Run, run and run . . .
A bottle filled with words.
An expressive hand over-pours the glass because
rats and cockroaches have splashed onto the wall slanting shadows
A disquieting word strikes.
Those of the same skin color emit timelessly.
translated by Linh Dinh
Cows are really the past.
Bulls were worshipped.
They seized meadows.
They taught each other how to steer themselves towards results.
They found amusement by inventing ways to ridicule corpses.
(Dead things bred daily and took turns on the
throne of the sacred object.)
The cows continue to procreate and the ring has
Worm color replaces grass color.
From a purebred worm the cows maintain a throne under the auspice
of the sacred
Eyes that can only see what’s behind.
From those eyes the cows procreate.
Also from those eyes the cows maintain the throne of the sacred
Also from those eyes the present has no more meadows.
The present is only cows consuming dishonest
Their meat is starting to be displayed in supermarkets.
Their meat is bloodless and odorless
They are preparing a beefsteak for an immortal
by Linh Dinh
Hands steadily spinning.
Guarding each number for a chance to shrink into
All things peeled.
Fading paints on furniture.
Bottles and scraps of paper not becoming garbage.
Accidents remaining at sites.
Pores not excreting.
Genitals neither generating nor receiving heat.
Population growth through test tubes.
An old monk chanting with his prayer beads on
this play button.
A young embittered black man playing rap on that
And on my play button a bass rhythm clogged up
soggy without transmigration.
In the morning the Red Guard sperms are all blind.
They are bats facing the wall.
They are heads masturbating to the point of impotence.
And the squashed little guy is lying and listening
translated by Linh
day lies face down on top of night, he and things
in deep pleasure. Time is many bats
the night’s darkness into irregular bits, each bit
live rhythm to splash into the crowd
from this crowd, another empty space
down the door. The room
and flexes. Shuddering on leaving a runway, opening the body—
sympathetic systems mix heat through the night. On the day
hedge collapses, he dreams fearful of aging, let
shadow flows and suddenly, all shapes
identical. He and blocks of monochromatic
cover the wall, play the morning game
an imagination avoiding shapes, evicting all things from their
figure is dropped into a bottomless sensation... Have intercourse
savages. With the sheep Dolly, a mountain peak capable
reproducing, rides another, sculpts symbols
debauchery, unformed, unstamped, and
predictions of balance
a divination book. As a prediction of imbalance, he shows
means to survive by exposing the sadness of teeth and hair,
sadness of sap oozing. As a stutterer
a world crisscrossed with directives, and in a wretched
he became lost and found himself in a deluge.
seasons supplant each other, until the season of
A sun ray crosses through, he hears it
in his blood. He longs to wraps his arms
a cow’s neck and to frolic with children. He carries
fresh fear, the fear of a woman imprisoned
a birthmark done with menstruation, turning back
a lost stretch of the road, counting fallen eggs on top of the
the thirtieth. A night of the alphabet, of intonations,
the flowering hour, of white enthusiasm. And the breasts
the earth are always shifting into puberty, so the well-worn
grow lush, and the body will retreat into the swamp reeds, and
detach itself from all things. Drop a thought into water
reach a world of sand...
translated by Linh Dinh
The life column twists,
sucks the sea swallow into the eye. The stage spread its legs
and spins. A light remaining from puberty plucks a woman from
someone else’s look.
Mixed among the pebbles,
an eye says: “Owls fly out from the vagina.” A dog runs after
a bone’s caress. “Let’s keep it,” a hand reaches out.
A burning smell from
last night’s dream. The morning is stuck in a calcium-deficient
yawn of a mandible. A finger lets go of faith. A complicated
emotion fans out. A blue fly bends down into the pit of a bottle
inside the trash can of repentance.
I dream of a one stringed
violin. The past stores up a fishy smell. The sudden death image
of a bird in flight. Hundreds of terracotta masks drop. The electric
fan is addicted to the wind. An old thought is remade by a set
of false teeth.
Swimming inside an
intestine, a man drowning in words chases after the phrase, “Savage
homes.“ A crippled child from the Central region selling lottery
tickets says morosely, “Mrs. Huyen goes up the Tranverse pass
on a Mink motorcycle sitting behind a driver with artificial
hands.” Beer bottles snap their caps and scream excitedly; 1,2,3
. . . go. Idiocy ferments
Growing from the asshole
a herd of traditional domestic animals, vines with soft thorns,
climbing on a metal fence of a viscous city with a million inhabitants
afflicted with night blindness. A history of shadows with no
faith in words. A damp poet makes poetry with images.
A morning exercise
with six breaths for one movement. On a bed without character,
a light metal ring left behind by a little Chinese circus girl.
disks sending and receiving signals. From an empty bottle. From
an old book. From a rotten tooth. From prayer beads. From a curse.
A string of monosyllabic news tumble from the vocabulary of run-on
A cat catches an elephant
and puts him inside a bamboo basket. Neither sadness nor happiness
exist. An awakened feeling of indigestion towards a death before
a chance for a haircut. Water leaks from the sense to the root
of a hair of a stuffed animal standing in the Straw Warrior Square.
Night with the blue
color of the weather turning into summer. A fading woman, the
seasoned face of a tropical fish having had intercourse with
a 110-volt light gives birth to a dance/theater/underwater palace
tune causing a funhouse effect to retarded children.
Two listless eyes behind
an urn. Incense sticks jostling each other to play the fog game.
Fireflies on a dry branch sprinkle flames on dead leaves. A snail
meets disaster on the North-South rail line. The tropics scoops
out a deep cave. A fistful of mildew countenances a Coke logo.
Inside a dirty shoe,
the toes breathe with difficulty. The rhythmic gas of carbon
dioxide from the past smothers. A book opens, words decompose.
An attentive look yields no meanings. Inside a thought: a short
woman, continuously shaking bright colored rings.
In the year 2544 of
the Buddhist calendar, two lizards intertwine on the stomach
of the Goddess of Mercy. A kid plays with insect noises made
by an organ. My child is afraid her teeth are yellowing. I gargle
three times a day with Listerine. Rent is going up.
The man who collects human bones says, “A
Black person cannot become more black by humping up. A White
person cannot become more white by arching his back. A Yellow
person cannot become more yellow by doubling over. A Red person
cannot become more red by going under.”
A painting renounces
colors on its own but the eye at the museum still retains them.
A dog from a poor household barks into the daydream of white
spots on the back of a cat inside an empty house. The Blue King
points his ass upwards and with his hands together dreams of
cannons and cars. Female Storm 7 finishes first at Phu Tho racecourse.
Huynh Phan Anh loses forever one third of a blue bill.
With the eyes closed
every sound is white. Last night’s dream hasn’t escaped from
the smell of the dirty shoe. In the valley a herder raises his
artificial leg to jab into the past.
War of the genitals
is replaced by a synthesized elastic. Music without windows.
On the festival of death, women are inflated by bombs into enormous
wombs, the sources of violent bloodlines.
A land of museums holds
the deformed and the strangely alive. The crawling reptilian
strength of a damp culture. And the homosexuals like to tattoo
onto the generative organs images of bugs and venomous creatures.
Nightly news of a low
pressure system, and flood, overflow the TV stations. A belief
from the river’s source shatter dykes packed with pasty earth
lumpy inside many heads nodding off to sleep. The ancestors are
underwater. Faith and filial piety wait for emergency food. The
ghosts are demanding Miliket instant noodles. The kinds of death
not found in dictionaries, and life shits and pisses on concepts.
Drowsy eyes waiting
for sleep. There is a man hanging from the roof. A death with
the beauty of a small waterfall pouring down a jagged peak. A
comedy is performed by an old monkey. His image has been printed
on postcards to sell to tourists.
Death has no gender.
The entire body is bound with musical strings. Testimonies are
taped all over the hallway. A few words clump their heads together,
ancient characters hobnobbing with complicated constructions
erected by absent-minded individuals. The grammar of those who
believe that, after a night’s sleep, they will wake up mute.
Between the green and
red signals, the streets coagulate. At the intersection of Great
Vietnam, a project gives its death notice. Next to a pile of
broken bricks: garbage, animal carcasses and strewn humanity.
A horn shrieks. The
crowd surges, screaming: “Kill! Kill! Kill!” A saxophone soloist
suffers a stroke in the middle of Castaways. The stage turns
180 degrees. The MC smiles, apologizes for the technical glitch.
A jazz singer sings Spring On The Steps, ass swaying,
The reason for the
calamity is determined by the sharp nose of a rabid dog.
translated by Linh Dinh
A day of dark glasses
Detective eyes look into a crevice.
The ocean surface calm, to hear the sunken ships
Rotting bodies inside the memory of wide-open
Centuries of typhoons, the sunken ships become
ghostly waves, become voices of matchsticks.
To light a candle for cold fingers.
The candle flame wipes dust off a secret smudge.
Only the wind knows of sea birds sinking and
dissolving inside wide-open eyes.
And ships of sounds not spotted with rust.
Adventures stored inside children’s dreams.
Dreams bulging and overburdened to become sudden
A beauty only time is violent enough to indict.
And all the judges will be children.
And all will be acquitted.
by Linh Dinh
A vacation on top of a stove.
Smoke preserves the shoots.
Warmth maintains the timbres.
The seed I store inside the tropical forest’s
A woman born from a fever and two eyes not gouged
out by the color yellow.
They are reminiscences soundly asleep inside
a legendary skirt.
Every situation in the story has cats, rabbits
and some fruits.
Aside from barks and the sounds of cats and dogs,
there are also cormorants, guavas, mangoes, and a bottle of fish
One among them said if stuck on a desert island
he would only need two things: Mozart and fish sauce.
I am a bear who does not know how to perform
mountain cave tricks, only lucky to survive the uprooted forest.
I was born from a tree’s hollow and my umbilical
cord was cut with a potsherd and my music is that of a woodpecker.
My smell is that of the saliva of bees mating
with the honey of flowers.
My road is to climb to the trifurcated crotch
of a tree to be full and drunk and to ponder for a minute then
letting go and falling down.
After each fall my flesh becomes elastic and
After each fall my plants grow boundlessly.
After each fall my animals multiply.
I’m tattered, I’m porous, I’m smooth, I’m bitter.
And I’m . . .
Although I’m only an uninsured seed and without
In a dense moment of idle bullets, I take off
In the legend I’m the survivor who has seen the
head at the bottom of a jar of fermented paste.
translated by Linh