On Reading a Translation of Poet Do Trung Lai

Confucius Temple has two roofs, Yin and Yang, a chinoiserie of flying eaves and clay tiles. Dragons decorate the beams with power and fortune. But bodies are placed so that the entire beast cannot be seen. I kneel under the keel of the moon. You who have set heavy yin and yang tiles balanced in heaven, as they are held up by strong roof beams, as these are held up with triple-beams gilded and half obliterated, large dragons. One cannot enter this room unless you surrender a token.

When the temple was searched, poems were found for us, in the shadows of real things. Under a hundred red lanterns, we collect documentation of the dreaming consciousness. I hold Five Lakes in Bac Minh Province in my hands. The lake which is most erotic. Your poem, Do Trung Lai. Translations of the old wind but in the image born of my breath. Like the Tam legend who has come to Eau river. Wash a Poet’s heart, and out it comes.

I read your river poem from the center. At the heart of the circle. For one’s actions in life may be compared to tossing stones in a pond. Looking into the Well of Clarity in the Temple Garden, seeing through a seam of ancient jade. No sooner has a pebble fallen into water; it transforms into a small circle which becomes a larger circle. No one lives in isolation. The circle continues to expand until it covers the entire pond. There are ghosts throwing stones. Ghosts listening. When someone is reading and their voice becomes drowsy. Turning vegetables into mint. The silent burial of words as soon as I speak. The dogma bears simplicity to a simple human act. If there are no tiny works apparent. Install the seeds. Compose a manifesto. Our buried thoughts never left.

Bamboo boats turn into dragon boats. River water turns into dragon wine of a thousand years. If translators are architects of image, do I use the force of vocabulary, not simplify, one lake to sink love- sickness. Do I soften edges to a kiss as I read a lake of water red, like lipstick. Shall I bar translation of valuable texts. Tear them up so that you can clean your feet. I ask what channels of red silk and poison, concealed in paper fan, reassemble themselves. All are so old, antiquity flowing the silk, threadbare, their long flowing robes. White silk and paper. They ordain us. An ink stone with such a hard surface, that the stick glides over it, without leaving any deposit of ink to write black ink & poem.

Two stone dogs lie beside you on the Faraway People’s Bridge, two monkeys tied to prayer, as was the year of the dog, the monkey blessings, as a bridge was finished in two years and the mystery survived. All are heroes found in details of water. Drowned with a thousand blue & white Japanned vases.

You write that river has only one colour. Who can read your poem without in some way becoming the river? What does translation prove? Your words are merely lent to me. No wall, no rope, no string can hold your words here. Tomorrow when all Poets disappear… we that have read poems in the belief that we could understand each other. But flesh and bone are rivers that separate us into distinct and lonely regions.

In the ancient stilt house, over the water, women serve tea of lotus blossom, infusion as buds opened, and the leaves regain original appearance, these were ripe and lunar, annulling distances of paper lanterns and luck, a metamorphosis of something earlier. We had aged. I saw dust among wooden boxes of lemonwood contain the likeness of before, and a high alter- spiritual shelf laughing above earth and in tiny perforations alight incense ceremony, all carved green jade stone, with all rich wisdom.

Pious smells of Gods place things in the room. Everything is needed for the soul; what marks the place, a lantern, a chair, tangible places of an ancestors supernatural passage- its garden, which plant after plant, spice and fragile stems of flower garden until one a row of bonsai trees, apricot blossoms lit up like little yellow lanterns, not just a glow but evening epoch as old wall, dark and heavy, still marks the place they vanished. All songbirds. The bamboo bird cage also. If one lifts the door a little while leaving, there is no sound. Ghosts outlive their outline as the bamboo cage outlives its songbirds. Silence. The emptiness will ruin us. It will bring the house down. It will establish the dust in which the light in yellow lanterns will break again.

It is sad to think that our words, indifferent to our leaving, should remain unspoken after we have gone. Shall we cast off disguises that produce no poetry. And return to the coats we put away, and a lake to wash the four part traditional shirt, to wash the headband, to wash the back silk pants. And as I thin the pages left behind, I catch the faint scent of lotus, which seems quite occidental. Do Trung Lai’s shirt all faded blue from sunshine and dew. Intoxicated in a garden nameless and eternal. The way he goes away in search of two sides of a leaf or a blade of grass. Please wash them in one separate lake.


Susan Blanshard

Susan Blanshard

Susan Blanshard was born in Hampshire, England. She has published more than 30 books including poetry, prose and creative non fiction. Her literary works are published in international journals and anthologies including The World’s Literary Magazine, Projected Letters, ICORN International Cities of Refuge. PEN International Women Writers’ Magazine. PEN International Writers Committee The Fourth Anthology. She has published book-length poetic prose: Sheetstone: Memoir for a Lover, Sleeping with the Artist, Fragments of the Human Heart, Memoir of Love and Art: Honey in My Blood. She lived in Hanoi, Vietnam for eight years. Susan recently edited English translations for four books of poetry for Vietnamese Poet Mai Van Phan. She has published three travel books on Vietnam. Susan currently lives near Sydney, Australia with her husband, a visual artist and writer.