“There’s a man who drinks nothing but memories”: Vietnamese poems: Nguyen Quang Thieu, Nguyen Ba Chung, Thich Nhat Hanh


Nguyen Quang Thieu (Vietnamese poet, born 1957)

“The Inn of Snake Alcohol”


The snakes are buried in alcohol.

Their spirits creep over the mouth of the jug,

They lie in the bottoms of cups.

Creep on, please creep on through white lips —

Listen:  Drunk is shouting his vagabond song.


With the top of a hat, with a pair of shoes

With glazed eyes that search the horizon

With anger setting fires in the temple

A whole life stunned by nothingness —


Like a broken stone, like a bending reed

With the startling turns of a poem

With a frenzy of fears that lick like fire

With the laugh in the sleepwalker’s crying —


Creep on, spirits of snakes, creep on!

Dazzling venom spurts from the jug.

There’s a man who drinks nothing but memories

Whose veins are the paths of snakes.


The little inn buries the great night

The forest recalls the name of Autumn

Alcohol carries the spirits of snakes

And Drunk is making a song from his own venom.



My Mother’s Hair


One of your hairs fell out last night,

a piece of your life was gone without a sound.

I know a difficult day is coming,

my heart, pierced, utters a quiet cry.


Let my childhood smile again, in the sun,

and turn me into an innocent little headlouse

so I can crawl through the jungle of your hair

and sing a song of darkness in its fragrance.


Under your fingernail-roof I’ll sleep in my house;

in my black dream I’ll water your black trees.

I’ll pick black fruits, and hair-jungle bees

will bring me black poems to be opened.


How will I live, without your hair?

How will I breathe without its fragrance?

How will I survive when I am discovered

by ghosts of wooden combs combing your hair?


Let me wear shows made of dawn-flowers

and crawl without a sound into your sleep.

I’ll take the place of the hair that’s gone

and sing of hair-clouds flying from night to  day.




“The Inn of Snake Alcohol” and “My Mother’s Hair”  ©   Nguyen Quang Thieu

Translations from Vietnamese by the poet – with Martha Collins


.     .     .


Nguyen Ba Chung (born 1949, Vietnam)



Let’s gather every fragment of our memories,

it’s all that we have at the end of our life.

Warring days and nights, showers of sun and rain –

what’s left of love?

Let’s gather what remains of our memories,

it’s all that we have at the close of our life.

Warring days and nights make us wonder:

Should the bundle we gather be empty or full?


.     .     .


Thich Nhat Hanh

(Buddhist monk, poet, peace activist – born 1926, Vietnam)

“For Warmth”


I hold my face between my hands

– no, I am not crying

I hold my face between my hands

– to keep my loneliness warm

– two hands protecting

– two hands nourishing

– two hands to prevent my soul from leaving me

– in anger.


.     .     .     .     .