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Lazarus / by Ocean Vuong

He came into my room like a god
stepping out of a painting.

Back from the wind, he called to me
with a mouthful of crickets–

scent of ash and lilac rising
from his hair. I waited

for the night to wane
into years before reaching

for his hands, my finger tracing
the broken lines in his palm.

My shadow beneath his shadow
across the hardwood. And we danced

like that: father and son–
our bodies like a pair of legs

over a broken chair.



Người đến phòng con như một vị thần
bước ra từ trong tranh.

Trở về từ gió, người gọi con
bằng miệng đầy những dế–

mùi tro và tử đinh hương toả lan
nơi mái tóc người. Con đã đợi

để đêm tàn vào năm tháng
trước khi vươn đôi tay

nắm lấy tay người, ngón tay con phác hoạ
những đường chỉ đứt dọc ngang lòng bàn tay.

Bóng con lồng bóng người
trên sàn gỗ. Và đôi ta cùng nhảy

chỉ thế thôi: cha và con–
cơ thể đôi ta như cặp chân còn

đung đưa
chồng lên chiếc ghế gãy.

– idlehouse dịch


This day 43 years ago, mom was holding An who was just nearly 3 weeks old, along with my older siblings waiting to evacuate from Sài Gòn.  All of my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents from mom’s side were there, too, waiting for the gate to open so people could board the departing ship.  The elders later recounted to us the fateful tale  of that day.  Mom, dad, and siblings were all languishing there with thousands of others, and then by late afternoon, mom turned to dad and said haltingly, “Perhaps….. we go home and come back tomorrow?”  Dad waited just for that line, the young couple took their kids to the car and drove home.  Shortly afterward, the gate opened, every single immediate member of mom’s family left for the US.

Mom went home to face years of postpartum depression, anxiety, and a soon to be arrested husband.  When I became a mother, holding young infants, I did wonder what it was like to be in her shoes. Exhausted and physically unwell, a demanding newborn who needed to be changed and fed around the clock, 2 year old and 5 year old and 6 year old in tow.  And a husband in jail who needed to be fed and supported too.  All this from a woman who barely knew how to do any of this, because my grandma used to help taking care of all the kids.

Mom got rid of many books, burned pictures, and bought a red flag with a yellow star, hung it out like many others.  I used to hang that flag out as a kid, on days like this.  But in spite of the fact that mom didn’t say much about the past, didn’t teach us to hate the communist party; in spite of endless propaganda fed to me from the government as a child, I never felt any affinity for that red flag, red being my least favorite of all colors.  I felt no awe or admiration for Ho Chi Minh, or anyone praised by an authoritative forceful body, for that matter.  When I left Vietnam, I missed the green of the land, the pot holes filled with the sky after the rain, missed my second cousins who raised me for the first 3 years of life, missed my godmother, missed the food….. But not the government, not the history, not the sense of pride or nationalism, not the identity of a people.

The overseas Vietnamese community said we stand united under the old government’s flag, the yellow with 3 stripes one, likewise, I have no affinity for it.  It was nowhere to be found in my life when my identity was clearly vietnamese.  When it did appear, it came with endless protests with people in old military attires and strong sentiments against all things related to the communists. It was the other extreme end of the spectrum, it left me alienated.  So when the teacher of my child went through the ancestry section in 2nd grade curriculum, I was totally hands off.  I said nothing about the vietnamese flag, leaving it up to her. She chose the current ruling government’s flag to say that’s where she comes from.  I looked at it and said nothing.  Like me, she was just doing it for the assignment.  She feels equality detached from it. As she went through the researches, she got next to 0 help from me.  She didn’t even care about it enough to ask for help.  I just let it be, because truth be told, I don’t know.  I am a vietnamese without a flag, without pride, without strong sense of nationalism, but I do love some of the people, some of the arts, some of the stories, some of the landscapes, some of the language, some of many things.  I like speaking vietnamese to vietnamese people, i like sharing food, sharing cultural understanding.  But if you ask me shouldn’t i be ashamed to feel no gratitude towards those who have died for either flag, or those who have died to defend the country from whatever — i feel burdened.  It was their leaders in their times who got them to the point of death.  My own uncle left home at a young age of 17 or so, to join the original Viet Minh back in the 40’s.  He was never again seen, believed to have been killed one way or another.  In the large scheme of things, i feel sad for him, i hope he felt his death was worth it, or at least he had no time to feel regrets.  I detest wars, I detest people who are blood thirsty and call young impressionable young people to stand under their cause.  The leaders manage to live, and the young people die.  Don’t burden me with their deaths.

Posted on: April 27, 2018

my earliest memories of mom were mostly Church related, I think one time I was around 5ish, and I misbehaved one way or another.  It was rather late at night, and so I was punished while the rest of the family did the nightly rosary.  I think I cried my way through it.   When my siblings were dismissed and began putting up their mosquito nets at bed time, mom had me do a separate nightly rosary with her.

For some reason, it was very dark, or my memories were dark —  ah, I remember, it was because everyone were supposed to be asleep, so lights were turned off, but still I didn’t repent correctly.  Finally mom got tired, so she had me pray with her, we did the prayers in the dark.  There were long prayers that I couldn’t quite remember, so I just stumbled along, repeating after mom.  There was the last prayer about entrusting everything in God’s hand, but it was rather graphic to a child of 5:  Dear Mary and Jesus,  nights and days, I  leave with you my eyes, my ears, my mouth, my tongue, my heart, and my everything to you ……  As I repeated these words in the dark, I thought of having to pull each part of my body out, bloody and gory, leaving them like sacrifices to God.

Nowadays mom is doing a fast dive into Alzheimer’s, so for those who live faraway like me, we call daily to talk to her, help her socialize a bit, making her days less bewildering, while the siblings living near trying to make arrangements to take care of her.  I hate talking on the phone more than an average person, so I have to set a daily alarm reminding myself to call mom.  And then after a week or two, I don’t know what to say on the phone.  Mom gets incoherent, I feel uneasy.  We are like strangers, the kid who left home early and feel very little connection to people; the mom who lived her whole life so timid; now that she forgets that life, the only thing that we both can seem to hold on to, is God.  So I said mom, should I say the rosary with you?  Many of the prayers she had spent her life reciting, she has forgotten.  So I opened up google and read them to her.  She followed along.  Now she’s like that child praying in the dark, and I’m the one leading her.

My first “real life” boss, my generous, understanding, protective, and loving friend, the one who used to celebrate birthday together with me, watched me grow, get married, have kids; because you have been there for such a significant part of my life, losing you feels like losing a part of myself too.

Thêm 1 truyện trẻ em nữa trên audio. Hồi xưa nhớ là đọc truyện này, thích lắm nên sau đó mới lần lần đọc dần cho đến khi gặp Watership Down (Đồi Thỏ).  Bây giờ nghe trên CD thì thấy chán hơn Đồi Thỏ rất nhiều, có lẽ 1 phần là do lỗi người đọc.  Mấy cuốn audio books khác nghe, phần lớn là người đọc có giọng khá bình thản êm đềm, lành lạnh. Còn truyện này ông tác giả hình như người Scottish, giọng giống giống như Frodo á, đã thế còn lên xuống trầm bổng đầy nhiệt huyết, nghe bắt mệt.  Mấy người đọc diễn cảm này bao giờ mà mình gặp họ mình cũng mang cùng 1 cảm giác như vậy.

hồi đó ông Les kể, có 1 lần ổng suýt được làm cha. Khi đó thấy có duyên, nên Les đã làm giấy tờ chuẩn bị nhận nuôi một đứa trẻ từ trại mồ côi. Khi đó đang là đại sứ ở Congo bên Châu Phi, đùng một cái chính biến.  Những nhân viên người bản xứ đều được để cho đi hết, trong toà đại sứ chỉ còn lại công dân Mỹ. Tuần đầu tiên có xác chết lạc vào trong khuôn viên của toà đại sứ, sau đó thì khoá cửa, tất cả mọi người tìm chỗ an toàn và bò thấp thấp dưới sàn, vì có đạn lạc lâu lâu vèo qua.  Suốt gần 1 tháng trời ăn uống nước nôi gì là toàn tự túc, có gì trong kho lôi hết ra. Cuối cùng White House gửi được quân đội vào để hộ tống, lệnh là phải bỏ của chạy lấy người — giấy tờ của cải gì gì là bỏ lại hết, thứ duy nhất Les không bỏ là con mèo Mademoiselle Gateaux — nhét vào trong áo, tuồn ra.  Vì cuộc chính biến đó mà mất liên lạc với đứa con hữu duyên vô phận kia. Les bảo, Congo đó, một đi không trở lại nữa.

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