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Uncle’s Poetry

♦ Chuyển ngữ: 0 bình luận ♦ 30.06.2007

Translated by nguyễn đức nguyên from the original Vietnamese Flash
“Những Vần Thơ Của Bác” – damau #27

Uncle’s Poetry

This story is not one of my fiction creations. I merely retell an account of a chance encounter between my uncle and a stranger in Hanoi some twenty three years ago.

In 1976, they transferred North my uncle, a political prisoner, to Hanoi. In 1984, when he was released, his jailers arranged for him to have train transport from the prison back to central Hanoi. That was the end of their responsibility. It was up to my uncle to find his own way back to Saigon. Wearing ragged clothing, a worn-out pair of sandals, and with an empty stomach, my uncle took a breather on a side-street, resting for a while before commencing the long walk South.

A young girl, hands guiding her bicycle, suddenly appeared.
“You must have been released from prison, uncle?”

“How can you tell?”

“Were you a ‘quisling’?” . Without waiting for the answer, she added “You shouldn’t be worry. Me also. I have just been set free.”

My uncle looked up, observed the young girl. The girl had pale complexion and was wearing a set of tidy but plain-looking uniform; on the handle bar of her bicycle hanged a basket with some tied-up, almost dried-out water morning glory greens. She did look a bit worse-for-wear, and had appearance of a detainee who was freed not too long ago. He started questioning himself about the reasons that could cause such an articulate, charming twenty-ish young girl, speaking with a local Hanoi accent, tobe held in custody?

“I am a painter. I make my living by creating and decorating propaganda posters. What got me into trouble with the police? Because I dared to modify Uncle Ho’s poem written on that poster!”

The young girl then pointed toward a government building nearby, one surrounded by a series of high walls and continued: “There, uncle. Can you read it? That particular Uncle Ho’s poem, over there. What do you think?”

For the good of the nation, ten years sowing sprouts
For the good of the nation, a hundred years raising people.

My uncle said: “That. I don’t think it can be classified as a poem. And I heard he borrowed words from a well-known Chinese person”.

The young girl’s face brightened.

“Yeah. They keep telling me that it is Uncle’s favourite poem. I don’t think Uncle would stoop to steal others’ poetry either. I myself think they did not transcribe his words correctly; they did not understand their meanings. Uncle Ho could not have been composing such poor poem. In fact, I did not modify Uncle’s poem; I only rewrote it to express Uncle’s true intention. And I only changed one word, and that word caused me trouble”.

My uncle beckoned the young girl to sit down on the footpath next to him, told her to lower her voice, just in case others may overhear the conversation and bring trouble again. “Tell me, which word did you change?”

Ten years sowing sprouts and a hundred years raising people, the idea is there, but there is no rhyme. You can’t have ‘people’ rhyming with ‘sprouts’! I fixed it by changing ‘people’ to ‘chow-chow’”.

My uncle mouthed the words.

For the good of the nation, ten years sowing sprouts
For the good of the nation, a hundred years raising chow-chow.

Damn! Marvellous! That definitely befits Uncle Ho’s poetry!

The young girl invited my uncle to have dinner with her family that night. They become close friends over the years. My uncle now lives in Virginia; the young painter is still living in Hanoi.

I write this story with the sincere hope that she will be invited to be a member of the judging panel selecting poems to be published in the Anthology of One Hundred Best Poems of the Century. She truly deserves it.

bài đã đăng của Đặng Thơ Thơ

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