Nguyen Quang Thieu, Vietnam

Por: Nguyen Quang Thieu

Latinoamerican Poetry Magazine
84-85. July 2008.


Black Color One

The two black colors look at each other, move around a black shape of glass.
The little girl left the village of cabbages eighteen years ago carried on her mother’s back.  The little girl slept and woke, cried, drooled, passed her pitiful black urine in her sling. Lamenting, but not cursing, she came to the white land, her cries falling like  vomited blood on the snow. Her fine black shape cuts into the bread, cutting her hand, opening a new mouth. The little mouth streams with red spittle, wetting the bread. She grows up in the snow, her two breasts growing, the two breasts twinkling, two needles wrapped with dark cloth.

The two black colors leave the glass shape, and crawl towards each other.
He was born and grew up from the stubble, the ash, the rice husks, and the
         sad voices. He - his hair glistening black, his beard black. Black
thatched roofs laid crumbled among the sound of geckos; a pack of black dogs
fell bewitched by shadows. From morning to dusk the water buffalo pulled its
cart, drawing its two black lines along the road through the rice field. The white 
letters on the blackboard offered no sign signs. And so he left the
black rectangle when darkness covered every mouth and. the mosquitoes
mixed their blackness into the blackness of the houses to steal the red, and the
moon tore itself form the dirty clouds to steal the blackness of the day.

 He moves on - the black of all black, etching light on other blacks. His
grand black color thrusts out its hand to erase all the white spots that might
             murder him.

            The two black colors move next to each other like two trees in the
 night, whispering as if in tears. Whisper, whisper, louder and louder like a
 shout. The white language cannot silence the sound. Only their whispering
 remains, like noise of  leaves rustling against the cracks of falling trees.

They, the two black colors, have merged. Their lips join in the way the people
 of the forest join two stones. And the blood of solitude, of desire, flows out
  through the two black  tragedies. The two tragedies lie spent, stretched out,
  lit up temporarily by their few moments of salvation.

              They rise silently, hiding the two twinkling and mysterious needles.
Stillness envelops them, announcing the coming of darkness. The sea gulls              
with their hoarse calls fly over the rooftops. . They quietly add to the scene
             many more black colors.


Black Color Two


              Evening falls over the garden, falls with many black colors.
              The wooden staircase moans like a toothache acting up.
The white dog throws away its coat from the day; darkness hides away
           Red patches of rash.


              Another black and a white are going through the garden; they hold a


The wooden house stands silent, it is deliberately does not see them.         

On the small path, the two are thrown together; they try to merge into each
other. The red color in the black makes their shoulders shrivel in fear.The black    
in the white color rumbles with the noise of a coffin.
In the falling darkness the garden echoes with the sound of clothes 
crumpling.  In the scent of off-season roses comes the smell of cheap
cigarettes. And memory - A black color – somewhere still spreads over the
    mountain tops, the forests of gun fire.
The wind blows hard and the off-season white persimmons and the off-season
Silky yellow persimmons are thrown together, their scents mingled. One person is
    the back of a hand, another its palm and together they have a key.               
               Blood flows evenly through the hand, even the finger nails.

The wooden house bites its lip, the misfired lock dies in its shadow.


The dog turns its head searching for the patches of red already lost                  
                   in darkness. The itchy new growth cannot bind to anything.
                   The white veteran lights a candle
                   The candle light and the color of his skin cannot merge.
In that white color there is a black moving past chains, fans, explosives.
The black color can never merge herself with the white bed spread.
                   The red color in the black grows a living thorn.


The candle remains white to snuff out, the bed spread remains white to
     crumple and the wine remains white to empty.
                 But they cannot merge, two obsessions cannot coalesce.
The wooden house bites its lip bitterly; still it deliberately looks the other                  


They have passed through a garden in darkness and wind; the off-seasons roses cry for them. They dash into each other, closer and closer ... but they
cannot merge.  That is their death. And now the black color is drawn out.


Black Color Three


                   The flapping of bird wings streams into the garden
                   The night rain falls soft and unabating
The wooden staircase has gone to sleep, the aching teeth have gone to sleep                  On the mattress, with love, the itching grows into a new coat.


                   From a distance arrives the sea’s delirium 
A flock of sea gulls, grains of black salt, dissolve upon the tongues of waves.
The sea can add to the many ships going to sea, but cannot add the sailors
                   Echoes from a distance stop at the fence                                                               
                   Stop to cry, sing, speak, and be silent
                   Peaceful calls caught in the pliant twisting of a rattan chair.
                   Fingers crawl like snakes in the night, like worms, like mens’                  
                   lives.  They can become paralyzed, frozen in each joint
                   Crawl, refuse to stop, refuse the thawing heat!
                   Crawl, make yourselves red-hot, fasten on to each other!
                   The black fingers look like half-burned twigs     
Far from their country, the wandering flames silently find their way back


And on the verandah, they, the two black colors, look toward home             
                   The old home breathes heavily
                   Awakened in the night by the white reverie
                   The old home loosens its black hair to the sun and the wind
                   The old home turns over like a wave
                   The old home buries itself like million-year-old salt                                   



And on the verandah, they, the two black colors, look toward the green canopy
The wind chime carries the laments of its homeland passing away
       over their heads.              
                    In the corner a school of golden fish hide in the dark water
                    On the Turkish carpet the horses shake off their shoes
                    On the way home, sand flies.
The Chinese tea leaf opens its eyes and looks at the unfamiliar pot
                    The Spanish bulls burst into tears.  The seasons turned
                    In the dream of a good blood letting


                    Stiff , half asleep, the birds sit too cold to open their eyes
                    Their black bills are shut tight against their black tongues
                    The trees’ canopies have merged together
                    Roots merge into trunks and leaves into fruits
                    A lamp is suddenly lit, its flash as bright as a flash of explosive
The flash merges into the flight of a flock of birds, the flock of birds merge into                  


                    And now the eyes try to merge into sleep
                    The tongue tries to merge into wine, and the blood into heart
                    Boundaries try to merge into lands and flags into shirts
                    As if long dead, two black spots perform their own burial
                    That is their way of life. And now around them
the pitiful laments of this merging travel across the immense spaces
                    And the muffled voice of the refusal to merge. And possibly ...


And The White Color


                    As splendid as any prayer, the snow falls and falls
                    Falls endlessly as if without boundary - a muffled cry
                    Falling, and nothing escaping, falling
                    Trembling, in the sky, wings of freedom


                    Fall, and gradually in the night, the mountain tops,
                    The many tall trees rising
                    Fall, and the many smoke stacks emerging,
The many roofs once thought forgotten, and the many windows no one                   
        remembered to close
                    Fall, snow, like a watchful eye
                    Open wider, look right into the house



                    Nothing can escape the look of Snow
                    The baby’s shoe crawls back under the bed
                    Fall, and the golden fish caught in the water tank,
                    The endless kiss and the table lamp left forever lit
Fall, the face forever pressed against the pillow, and the dream forever                   
                     poised in mid air
                    Fall, the letters forever put in the trunk    
                    The voices forever echoed in the lines
                    Fall, and appear the dumb wooden fences
                    The bullets forever flying in their paths
                    Fall, Snow, from the infinite distances

                    As distant as if it were in, out of the palm
                    Fall, and all the mute roads make music
                    Fall, all the trains, all the cars stop their journeys
                    Travelers stay forever in their seats, with their passports forever                  
        in their hands.  Forever never reaching home, forever never
       going away from home                    
                    Fall, snow will redraw the maps of the world. 
                    And under the white map, always the museum.

                                                                    Boston 1994 - Ha Dong 1995


March Reminiscence

I still hear the voices of the old storytellers,
Their stories treavelling the dark fields
of the countryside at night.

In a field of white houses, one white house shines bright.

There, my mother’s been dozing,
an old familiar pain gnawing at her stomach.
Twenty years,
She’s b been dreaming of a house with white swaddling cloths on a line.
She’s lost her way,
forgotten which road leads back
to the house where I was born.

At night, I, too, wander,
seek that same dwelling place.
But all I ever find are endless fields
And other white houses
white swaddling clothes draped across the sky,
and babies, carefully numbered,
Lining the roads.

Against our desires,
Each night as sleep arrives,
A someone,
Paints all the world’s houses bright white again.


May Reminiscence

A voice trembling with fear passes through a house
Shrouded in May’s darkness.
You return from a distant field bearing flowers.
The water you pour into the vase makes sound of weeping.

In the darkness the flowers seem pale.
Their tired eyes seem to stare straight at us.
Their perfume fills the room and
I know we will be separated forever.

A petal drops. I hear someone falling,
A groan passing from someone’s bleeding lips.
Shadows look back from the windowpanes,
the calls of the cut stalks, decapitated flowers,
                                             grow louder and louder.

The darkness is making us both disappear
No more will our names be easily spelt.
The 31st day of May comes
but we are unaware of the error.

May has only thirty days
but on this, the 31st, a man arrives.
He enters our house
He is dressed in formal clothing.
He carries a bouquet of dark flowers
He lies down between us.

July Reminiscence

In my dream our bodies cut the bed in a long diagonal.
We lie like two trees felled in a storm
Above us, woodsmen, their faces covered by masks,
run a plumb line down our bodies.

They cut us up into blood red pieces
They never make a sound.
The blade rips through us in flashes of light, bright and colorful as fireworks.
Our life blood flies up as dust in the sparks.

Our bed’s become a workshop.
Bits of our lives turned into beds, tables, wardrobes, coffins.
We’re everywhere, but the trees no longer know us.
To them we are just a deaf and dumb memory.

The woodsmen never think of us rising up again,
Not out of mere sawdust and shavings.
They throw the last few scraps into the fire;
Our lives shine out through the blaze.

The woodsmen now are being led away from the workshop.
They pass by beneath the trees
Who honor their last requests
Let them keep on their masks.

December Reminiscence

like Chinese characters,
the trees of December appear.

A raven flies into a tree
and perches at dusk in silence..
Ears fill with fear
And vanish into a field.

Like a man left standing alone,
the gray dirt road
has no place to hide.

A man walks out of a house on a hilltop
his head slunk,
never will he bloom into flower.

The house on the hill,
dark as the raven.
These ears still half-fearing,
hiding, too shy to rise.




For Nguyen Quyen

His head bowed in a faded chair he sits in a deathlike silence.
The day’s last light dims slowly in the window.
He draws himself up and his body becomes a great ear
pulsing to the strange universe of sound.

There is no separation now.
Alone, a huge ear, he hears all the sounds in the world.
He hears the sound of a back reclining for sleep,
the sound of breath as it stops.

All around him, many who seem, like him,
to cart about ears on their heads.
But their ears are deaf as joss sticks or paper offerings.
He was wrong when he shouted: Listen to me.
The truth sneered at him then.

Nothing may comfort him, not even death.
He has to live. Sometimes he shrinks
before the curses of those who walk side by side
like two halves of a pair of torn pants.
His mission is not to drive flies away.

He is a man made crazy by the dumb and stuttering world.
He wears always the face of a sick child.
At night his head is a huge swaying bell.
Its ringing makes the trees and the hills tremble.


Praying to my grandfather

As if
from a statue carved in black marble
My grandfather walks out of
The darkness.

My house tumbles
through the endlessness of space
my grandfather’s voice
is the sound of a brass key
falling through the rooms of time
somewhere in a corner
my family’s history lies hidden in a trunk.

My grandfather’s spirit spreads
Through the rooms of the house.
The rooms grow larger and larger.
The four wooden pillars can’t stop growing,
The leaves in the garden become giant hands.

Each night I return
To my grandfather’s half-built house.
awaiting the time when he will step out from the black marble
tell me: “you’ve grown greater than that small creature in an ancestor’s  dream.”


Wings of butterfly

Somewhere nearby a butterfly’s wing quivers on the first breath of January.
A butterfly wing thin as any emptiness, thin as any vagueness,
opening somewhere, a real butterfly wing.
Not splendid in color but rising in a misty haze.

We ran into the square our bodies touching,
someone screamed out in anger, destroyed the moment.
We forgot that somewhere in the bushes
the catepillars were bursting their cocoons.

Somewhere near there is a light that does not die in darkness,
a motion growing stronger and stronger in its motionlessness,
patiently it hides over fields and skies,
emerging as a fragile beauty on the verge of parting.

Somewhere near, not near, but all around,
butterfly wings open from darkness into light.
They bear their beauty out onto January’s warm breath.
They carry it out into the world
without the slightest sound.


The Souls of the Cows

The cows took off last night,
the dark cows headed for
their final fields.

Throughout the night their calls
fell over the silent fields.
Throughout the night their breath
blew as hot as summer wind.

They were finished with their last furrows.
Their yokes fell off near daybreak
They left their hoof prints behind
covering all the fields of the world.

At dawn the cows turned a bright golden yellow
and disappeared into the sun.
Their calls traveled over the heads of the musicians
in the small village church
practicing one last time
before Easter.

Now there are only the clouds –
the souls of the cows -
flying over the fields
of the other cows.


I siting holding my little daughter.
Both of us are sick –
We talk to each other in fits of coughing.

Dry branches crakle :
The sacred flames stirs and wakens.
Invisible footsteps circle the fire
Raising gusts of warm ashes.

Farther back, in a red autumn,
Brown snakes creep across a garden.
Farther back, crying with summer, I see
Another me walking, flying in the garden.

Farther back, still farther,
Time is a place where I sit by a fire
One fever holding another,
Our coughs, now one, waiting to break in two.



The crooked funeral horns are mine,
The drums with cracked skins are mine,
The two-chord fiddles with bent backs are mine.
Their magic music rises in the distance,
Mother, I see Grandmother smiling
Behind a net of smoke.

A hearse is rolling into my dream,
Yellow dragons are flying up,
The sounds of horns and drums.
I am tiptoeing through the Co may flowers
And someone I can’t see keep lifting me up.

I want to hide in those funeral clothes,
I want to cover my coughs with those warm ashes.
Now I see Grandmother dressed in silk
With thousands of candles around her
She is pouring rainwater into a jug
She is waiting for me to come back.

The splendid hearse is my toy, I am lost in play.
Mother, do you hear my laughing ?
Solitude and I are children with many thongs to do.
We are resting beneath th dome of the hearse,
We are flying behind the funeral flags,
We are flying to my native hills
Where I can put on a yellow shirt
And sleep on a fragrant betel leaf.
But how can you wash my face there, Mother ?

I love the horns, the drums,
The two-chord fiddles with my sobbing,
And they love me with their sadness, their distress.
Our song rings out, bringing me back to the land,
Back to the road with white Co may flowers,
Back to the house where you wait to wash may face.


The stars

We can not support each other
With starlight, I tell you, please don’t cry.
Your hair is spilling onto my chest
Like tree roots winding through stony soil.

How many nights have passed ?
Breathing in, we embrace before  the stars
The faraway stars I can never reach,
I can never pluck for you.

I called you back, I couldn’t let you go,
So young and so fearful, you are.
You lean on me, I lean on my pain,
While earth leans on the distant constellations.

This extravagant night have only you and me,
Trembling without food, or clothes, or shelter.
Whate will we do, when dawn wakes?
Go out to the open sea? Return to the forest?

Where is our earth tonight, A million
Years back, or a million years ahead,
With dusty winds and yellow clouds ?
Are we the last humans, or the first ?

How many nights have passed?
We’re babies smelling of milk,
We breath like sick people just waking up.
Embracing, we look up, calling the stars.



Like an ancient town buried underground for thousands of  years that is just now waking up, the snails creep across the garden under the moonlight as dazzling as sunlight in summer. The top of their shells flash like dianmon beads of a Qeen’s crown on a festival evening. Their soft wet bodies glid, trembling with tenderness. Their antennae rise toward the sky to catch the waves of strange sounds. What secret language, happy or sad, is calling the snails ?  

The moonlight is quite, the trees are quite. The snails creep over sleeping grass and fallen leaves. Their body glide over sharp-cold bits of broken glass. I can’t tell whether they cry or curse. What I hear is the sound of water, rising to flood the moonlit night.

The sanils hid in banana plants, in thorn-bushes. Awake now, they silently slip away. Is my garden their native land, over the next garden, or still another garden? Are they running away from their native land, or finding their native land ? It doesn’t matter : I sing a song tonight because their departure is as mavelous as a dream, or a festival evening.

The last snail creeps over the old wall surrounding my garden. As the top of its shell disappear, the last diamon light of the Queen’s crown fades away. The snails leave glittering streams of light in their paths, and the treaming stars change position in the sky.

Be hind the window of my house tonight, I whisper Goodbye to the snails.


The women carry river water

Their toes are bony, with long black nails:
They spread like chicken feet.
For five, fifteen, thirty years, I ‘ve watched
The women go down to the river for water

Their hair knots break in torrents
Down the back of their soft wet shirts
They grip their shoulder poles with one hand
The other holds white clouds.

As the river presses against its banks to turn,
The men bring fishing poles and dreams of the sea
The magic fish turns away and cry,
Bobbers lie still on the surface of water
The men, angry and sad, go far away.

For five, fifteen, thirty years, I ‘ve watched
The women come back from the river with water,
Crowds of naked children running behind and growing up.
The girls put poles on their shoulders and go to the river,
The boys carry fishing poles and dreams of the sea,
While the magic fish turn away and cry
Because they’ve seen the hook in the dazed bait.

Those poems translated by Kevin Bowen, Martha Collins and Nguyen Quang Thieu

Other poems Prometeo # 83

Natalia Rendón

Nguyen Quang Thieu  born 13/02/1957 in Ha Tay province (now Hanoi) he is the President of The Association of Vietnamese Writers, member of the Poetry Council of The Association of Vietnamese Writers. Thieu is now living with his wife and two children in Hadong town, Hanoi. Thieu worked for Electronic Papper of Vietnam. Before 2007, Thieu had been working as poetry editor of Van Nghe Weekly (the weekly journal of Arts and Literature of the Association of Vietnamese Writers. In 1995, Thieu is one of the writers who founded Van Nghe Tre Journal, a weekly journal of the Vietnamese young writers and worked as the head of Van Nghe Tre editing boads Thieu began writing from 1983. He published his first poetry book in 1990. In 1993, Thieu was given Award of Association of The Vietnamese Writers with his poems collection: The Insomnia of Fire. ( it´s the most important Award of Literature in Vietnam). In 1998, Thieu received Award for the Final by The National Literary Translators Association of America for The Women Carry River Water Thieu also received over 20 other Awards and Prizes for poetry, prose, play and filmscript. Nguyen Quang Thieu published 27 books as well as also wrote and published two plays, 10 filmscripts and over 200 essays and articles. Thieu also paints. His first oil paintings exhibition was held in The National Museum of Art in Hanoi 2005. Thieu´s works (poems, short stories and novel) were published in America, France, Noway, Sweden, Japan, Ireland, Venezuela, Ausstralia, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea. Thieu have readings in America, Australia, Ireland, Noway, Sweden, Thailand, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea Thieu´s published works: Poetry Collections: The Green Age. 1990; The Insomnia of Fire. 1992; The Women Carry Water River. 1995; The Soldiers of Village. 1996; Poems by Nguyen Quang Thieu. 1996; Rhythm of New Delta. 1997; The Night Birds´ Song. 1999; The Poems for Childhood. 2004. Prose Collections: Wild Grasses. Novel, 1991; Alone Laurel Wreath. 1991; Call From Love. Novel, 1993; Assassinater of The Field. Novel, 1995; The white Haired Woman. Short stories, 1996; Son of Two Families. Short Stories, 1997; The Short Stories by Nguyen Quang Thieu, 1998; The Father. Story for children, 1996; The White Tortoise. Story for children, 1998; Secret of Magic Fish Lake. Story for children, 1998; Wooden Devil. Story for children, 2000; Moutain Named A Blind Woman. Story for children, 2001; Who Sees a Real Moon. Short Stories, 2003.

Última actualización: 20/02/2022