Ỳ Nhi


One day
he brought her a small paper bag
and she emptied it into her palm –
buttons of green, violet and yellow

He gave her his soul
he gave her his life
but every day and hour, every minute and second
he wanted to give her everything he was able to in his life.

Time passed
she continued to send back
colored buttons that could not be sewn on ordinary clothes
a candle that was of no use under electric lights
a hair net too delicate to hold her hair
a bottle without the faintest taste of alcohol.

Translated by Bùi Kim Tuyến and Joseph Duemer

The Soldier

On the way from one battlefield to another
the soldier passes a city.

The crowded and noisy city
turns out before him very quietly
the trees stand in silent lines along the streets
the tram seems to flow through the narrow street
without making a sound it runs so fast
many people walk quietly beneath the high buildings
they cry, laugh, part from and wait for each other
he feels everything with his eyes
he cannot hear their talk
he cannot hear their cries or laughter

Ordinary life has turned out
just as he has long expected
but it’s just a dream
something that he cannot reach
he will never have enough time

In the camps and trench shelters
he spends his time under fire
with fever and hunger
in danger from enemy action
Preparing the assault he grasps the flag in his hands
he begins to consider his death
the way he once considered his life.

The train whistle shrills like an alarm
He turns a last time to look at the city
On his face an expression of farewell.

At the gate of the railway station
the guard slides a small piece of cardboard into his hand
explaining loudly
it’s the ticket for his trip
he smiles
nonchalantly puts the ticket into his breast pocket.

Feb. 1984

Translated by Đăng Việt Vinh and Joseph Duemer