Poems by Mai Văn Phấn

Επιμέλεια: Εύα Πετροπούλου Λιανού

Accompanying the Guest Out of the Alley

After brewing tea
When I returned
The guest was gone
Speaking on the phone
His family said he had been dead seven years
A misunderstanding

At home
All in turmoil
No memory of when the portrait was taken down
Where was the winding clock?
To whom was the fake ancient teapot given?           

Dropping in on the neighbour          
To check several food items
Some with higher prices
Some remained unchanged        

In the house
The tea still hot
Pushing a cup towards the guest’s vacant place

A deadly vapour six meters high suddenly rose up
Bowing down in front once in a while.

Translated by Nguyễn Tiến Văn. Edited by Susan Blanshard

Closed Eyes

With closed eyes the world appears unpolluted. The surrounding pure spaces are spreading and latticed. We see ourselves in childhood holding a bright candle in the church. The candlelight is filling eye-sockets, filling the hollow immobile gaps amidst secret verdant foliage. With closed eyes the forest resembles a garden. The rattan stems, the ferns and wild grasses take the shape of huge ancient trees. The needle leaves form a large canopy. The earth bee, the porcupine, the squirrel, and the bull are similar shapes… And I stayed motionless for a long time with my eyes closed. Even though my premonition had warned me, they were looking for a clue, fanning the wind, taking fright… With closed eyes we can see people and all things in justice and in a clear light. Pens and books, beds and drawers, knives and chopping boards, and the old bike were of the same size. Each human organ opens up with multiple strange eyes, while the venoms absorbed are permanently sealed up with no way of escape. With closed eyes you are not so busy as when I am with open eyes. But your silence makes queer resounding sounds, telling me that your love has penetrated the trees, the streets and houses, the gardens, the fields, and the rivers and springs… From now on we need not doubt anything until we close our eyes forever

Translated by Nguyễn Tiến Văn. Edited by Susan Blanshard

Wind Crest


Crawling on sharp tops of the rock
Body of wind scratches

Blood of wind is rain
Sunshine drips down

Mountains roll the kiss up high
Gray clouds cast into black

Mountains open wide their arms, trampling feet into ground
Crushing into fragments
Tears the body of wind into pieces
The starlight falling
Morning bursting out

Up to the top of slope in a flash
Open eyes look down

The kisses heaped higher
The frenzied wind rolls up on another crest.


Finding your mouth to sow
Wind clinging to tender limbs of land
Plunge down to the abyss

Rot the bowels of hills and mountains
Chest of wind drifting
Playing on the ground

The shell cracked flash
Spring overflows the grain mouth

Waiting to sprout the cotyledons
Wind will carry the ground away.


Shut tight the door the more wind blows
Things suddenly remembered, tighten in my chest

The eye of wind swept me into you
Turning quickly round and round

Swiftly passing a bridge
My body was bent by the wind
Hung like a wet towel across the railing
Dripping down into a swift-flowing river.

Remembering how the train cuts through a body of wind
Columns of smoke overturn and siren sounds disappear in an instant

My breath is constrained through the trumpet-reed
The pressure like an eagle wings spreading wide
Raising fragile dragonfly wings
Cavalier on the wind’s crest

Outside the vault of leaf disorder
Torn to satisfy the frenzied excitement
This inhibition of lust.

Translated from Vietnamese by Trần Nghi Hoàng. Edited by Frederick Turner

The Rock Inside Stream Bed

Be quiet for water flowing
Swift, deep, unending, icy cold over the rock.

Is there the Spring?
Festoon climbing the trail
Voice of birds resounding down gurgling

Shadows of trees tremble on the rock, shade or sun–
How can the colors of wildflowers could unscathed forever?
The stone closes its eyes in calm to let the water sweep across it.

Langurs with ashen thighs(*)
Cause the tree-shadows again to bob and rise;
Gentle drizzling rain disordered flies
Creeping into the deepest crevices.

Clouds stop where the clouds…
The fragrant odor of ripe guava creeps through the forest
A porcupine ruffles up its quills, goes still.

Above all in this moment
Let’s stay put at the spot where you are at

(*) A kind of gibbon (vọoc chà vá chân xám or ‘vọoc Java (?) chân
xám’) Scientific name: Pygathrix cinerea.

Translated from Vietnamese by Trần Nghi Hoàng. Edited by Frederick Turner

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.

Trans. by Nhat-Lang Le. Edited by Susan Blanshard 

Where the Sky Is Spacious

You blow in the warmly ardent season
Trees wither for lack of water not far from the river swollen in splendor
The fish grinds up the hook and upsets the order of time
I shrink up to fly into infinity
The tower raises multi-directional sensory organ

Your braided hair is glorious like a beaded open-air crown
and your skin resplendent as the back of the moon
sweet fruit and golden paddy resplendent as the back of the moon
the timely seeds stand up proudly
the thunder, lightning and tornado are self-confident,
but when my grandparents’ silhouettes are seen
through the perfumed vapour of cooked rice, I burst into tears

Overwhelming absorption and sudden revelation
are woven into horizon of clouds in every circular breath of hope
to trigger the drops of drizzle in the chest
and the leftover food preserved in memory

Truth makes the letters jump out and they cannot be withdrawn
we are all more self-confident when we wake up and see the symbol engulfed in the mouth of fire.

Translated by Nguyễn Tiến Văn. Edited by Susan Blanshard

One’s Wish List

The bells ring out
in metamorphosis and being
the mountain top hides the contracting and stretching trail
the you of yesterday is unrecognizable

the horse is out of breath
dizziness due to an impression of grass
the bundle of tongues being cut-off, follow one another
piercing the heart’s blood to fall on loose soil
growing into fresh hands behind our back

I fiercely plunge deeper
in wait for resurrection among soft hair
covering wild eyes
and go out relaxed
disdainful of the monument
suddenly erasing the things known
buried in the sun, in the fathomless night, in stagnant waters
erasing the plump body
with rubbing fingers
groaning clouds in flight
stretching the cricket’s chirping
water suddenly screams in delight through the abundant river mouth
the trees are jerking their canopy in disorder
the rising leaven in the pitcher’s bottom

flows through my mouth
your soft body
a body of perfume or fresh grasses just sprouting

the right to one’s wish list

Trans. by Nhat-Lang Le. Edited by Susan Blanshard

The Soul Flew Away…

A spider’s hammock being torn by the lifting fog
Returns freedom to the soft tongues of grass

The drifting clouds rub out
A horizon that has just buried darkness

Blood resurrected within the ground
Turns into young sap welling up at each falling leaf

While long-suffering shadows remain silent
The thrush bursts out a firework of calls

Buds are shooting up dividing walls
As arteries of streams clear and circulate

Tongues made of glass break into voices
To discuss each discolored photo

The words in a notebook having dreamed of fire
Just before they become ashes, suddenly come to

When moving out, one has tossed the incense sticks’ leftovers into the river
So one wonders why fragrant smoke still lingers…

Trans. by Nhat-Lang Le. Edited by Susan Blanshard

Written for the Flute

I blow into the dark-as-hell hollow of a flute to discover the seven ways to paradise: do re mi fa sol la ti.
Each scale flaps its wings and flies away, gliding into the mysterious glittering seven-color light. Those shadows bear the shape of the flute. Soon I will put my lips to each shadow and blow.
Leaving the bass section, they fly, and then release a myriad of pitches into the night. I hear laboring footsteps of night echoing, as it leans on the octaves to ascend.
A muted universe is hanging in the night. Tender waves let the shadows know to wake up in the morning and meet the light.
Each dark corner inside me is sucking on sounds, like sucking on a mother’s breast, and from my half-open mouth, light slowly streams in.

Trans. by Nhat-Lang Le. Edited by Susan Blanshard

At the Root of the World

For Susan & Bruce Blanshard

I see at the top of the hill
A beardgrass flower just bloomed
Light emanates from there

Dawn emanates from there
And illuminates the foot of the hill, a forest exit
Birds depart in the early morning
I too have just left my memories

Not from anywhere else
But from that very beardgrass flower
An extremely beautiful day is forming

I walk to the nearest café
To wait for my woman

And for a long time I look towards the hill
True, very true
All of us were born there.

Trans. by Nhat-Lang Le. Edited by Susan Blanshard

Variations of the Crow

The smell of death draws the wick to the zenith
The crow shines brightly.

After the crow’s croaking
Irresistible departure
The pouch has been opened
Unconcealed deterioration
The herb doctor burned his books at the end of the garden
New medicines in stock had expired
The witches suffered punishment
Their mouths closed by iron hooks

When the bell suddenly dropped
Covering the old temple warden’s head
The fish committed suicide by jumping into a cloud
Ten thousand fishing hooks, hanging in the sky

Ink was splattered under feet and blood
Congealed in throat and lung arteries
With a stroke on the first page
Thousands of pages were permeated.

Fallen from the summit
With two sharp wings
Centering on the corpse
Slashing the atmosphere
Hurried winds had no time for bandages.

Clawing from the eye sockets
The viewpoints
With posthumous pictures as evidence
Cut out the tongue
Stretch to dry off in the sun
the slogan’s lesson
Slice off flesh piece by piece
Dismember limbs
Show the innards

The skull all set up
Was completely covered with mold
This epitaph could not be written.

The crow dreamed
All deaths were arranged

After the crow’s croaking
Who volunteers to lie down.

The crow flew into the room
A finger raised slightly
This is the gun muzzle
The scythe
Even the spade
Even the very hard finger
Rather it was frozen
Then defrosted
Then melted down.

Do not approach the shade
It was the crow
Spreading its wings at sunset, sunrise

With its claws clinging to the winds
To grind dry leaves
To prune outreaching branches

The poet took refuge in the shade
Each letter hollowed out of an eye.

To look at
Because in the wink of the eye
The shadow of the crow
Stormed in.

One’s own shadow
Did not raise its voice
For fear of turning into a chick.

A number of people emerged from the crowd, clad in black, wearing black masks. While running, they slapped their arms on their flanks. They tried to raise their heads by stretching their necks. The black shadow hovered close to the ground.

Perched on a tree fork after overeating and napping, the crow dreamed that every mouthful of food squeezed into its stomach would turn into an egg. The crow chicks crept in groups from the five organs and immediately lowered themselves to hunt with the instinct of a bird of prey.

The utmost sufferings looked back on a life almost dead. The cloak gave a muffled shout when passing desk and drawers. The telephone slept silently. The staple opened its mouth to hide its claws. The broomstick gripped the laborer’s arm, and pulled her to the garbage dump. The hat brim on the head cried out in panic, then bent down to devour the entire face of the guard. Nobody opened the gate. Yet many people managed to find an entrance.

The disembodied souls looked for a way back to fight the evil crows. After the volley of non-lethal bullets, smoke from incense joss-sticks spread onto a board, with the first word written for the new lesson.

This is the last line in a testament:
“Start the celestial burial at the appearance of the crow’s shadow”.

The night shadow crept into the crow’s belly.

And ours too. With gnawing pain together on the hungry river. The drops of troubled water found a way to pass through cotton fibres. The huge surface of water, its vibrations, wishing to keep hold of human shadows. Strike a match and remember that the wick is very distant. Throw up both arms, raise your voice alone in the darkness.

The crow out of sorts through the might
Craws in fright

For the first time the sound goes out without an echo.

Translated by Nguyễn Tiến Văn. Edited by Susan Blanshard

Mai Văn Phấn was born 1955 in Ninh Bình, Red River Delta in North Vietnam. He has published 16 poetry books and 1 book “Critiques – Essays” in Vietnam. 29 poetry books of his are published and released in foreign countries. His poems translated into more than 40 languages. Mai Văn Phấn has won a number of Vietnamese and international literary awards, including: The Vietnam Writers’ Association Award in 2010; The Cikada Literary Prize of Sweden in 2017; The Award of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in 2019; Four times won the Golden Pen Literature Award of Russian Federation in 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022; The Award Aco Karamanov of North Macedonia in 2020; The Award of the International Slavic Literary Forum “Golden Knight” 2022; The Poetry Collection of Year Award of Boao International Poetry Award (China) in 2022 (for the Poetry Collection “Улетел на рассвете”); The Award of the International Poetry Competition “My heart in the Mountains” named writer William Saroyan (Armenia) in 2022; The Frederick Turner prize of Mundus Artium Press (USA) for Poetry in 2023; The Award of the International Literary Online Competition “To you, Nesvizh, I dedicate …” (Belarus) in 2023.