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The Women Carry River Water (UMass Press, 1997)

The Women Carry River Water cover

Poems by Nguyen Quang Thieu, edited and translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins and the author.

From The Women Carry River Water

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 backs 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 turn away and cry;
Bobbers lie still on the surface of the 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.

The Habit of Hunger

When I was fourteen, my sister and I
Drained the blood of a duck into a bowl.
Its red blood came together, in an embrace.

When I let go,
The duck wasn't dead.
Head flopped to one side,
It staggered like a drunk.

From the cut at its throat
Drops of bright blood dripped
And caught in the white feathers
Like a string of broken
Glass beads.

It buried its head in a basin of water,
Hunting for leftover grains of rice.
But the rice couldn't find its way to the stomach.
It fell through the cut in the throat,
Grain after grain.

Then the duck made its way to the path.
It looked for the pond
It looked for the field
It looked for the river, the sea,
To catch fish, to hunt crabs.
When it buried its head in the mud,
Red blood spread like oil on water.

Aching with cold, I went looking for the duck.
With an invisible knife, I cut meat along the way.

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