Poems by Nguyen Phan Que Mai
Translated from the Vietnamese by Bruce Weigl and Nguyen Phan Que Mai
Nguyen Phan Que Mai is among the most exciting writers to emerge from post-war Vietnam. Bruce Weigl, driven by his personal experiences as a soldier during the war in Vietnam, has spent the past 20 years translating contemporary Vietnamese poetry. These penetrating poems, published in bilingual English and Vietnamese, build new bridges between two cultures bound together by war and destruction. The Secret of Hoa Sen, Que Mai's first full-length U.S. publication, shines with craft, art, and deeply felt humanity.
I cross the Lam River to return to my homeland
where my mother embraces my grandmother's tomb in the rain,
the soil of Nghe An so dry the rice plants cling to rocks.
My mother chews dry corn; hungry, she tries to forget.
Que Mai, a translator, poet, and winner of the Poetry of the Year Award from the Hanoi Writers Association (for 2010's Freeing Myself), collaborated with poet and translator Weigl for this collection focused on the lingering physical and psychological effects of the Vietnam War. These straightforward, personal poems lament and celebrate with the landscape the smells, colors, and people of her country that is their touchstone: "I sing for you the highland's waves, softening the stone shore./ I sing for you storks' wings of the south./ I sing for you the northern sunlight's grassy fragrance/ carrying you towards your river home." But Nguyen also sings for the alienated orphans of the Vietnam War; for garment workers in Bangladesh; for the victims of Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines; and for mothers across the globe in perilous circumstances. "The curves of the village temple,/ the Persian lilacs' purple,/ the sunset with low-flying stork wings," Mai writes with a nostalgic yet detail-oriented eye. "Because I keep my homeland in my heart,/ my harvest is rich,/ all year round." Dual-language edition.