A Journal of Contemporary Arts 






(My father, angry at me for neglecting the harvest because I was reading, took the book away and told me he would only give it back after five years.)

Unwrapped, the classic Greek anthology
Still bore upon its covers marks or brands
Of mud and nervous fingerprints that he,
My father, left on from his workstained hands.

And here, like two smudged hemispheres, there dwelt
Two teardrops that concealed what went unsaid:
My mother thus unraveled what she felt,
A silence broken like spider-thread.

A five-years’ sentence, with his old whetstone
Locked in his tool-chest, the book speechless lay,
Because at the wrong time I read alone
As the rain danced upon the drying hay.

Maybe the value lost by my inaction,
Saved might have bought a pan of hot corn-bread
To fill seven children’s tums to satisfaction
When dreams and hunger vied there to be fed.

The sphinx-like pages of the book were gnawing
The time I should have spent on fields of bread,
--Bread of his dust and sweat, his sowing, mowing—
Deaf to the waltz of rain where hay lay spread.

I’d bought the book without his due permission,
That book I riffle now through all their days,
As if I threshed there all their pains and passion,
Two miracles, alike, that still amaze.

While with fine nerves their life was weaved and fed,
Of breath my love of reading was, its strife;
They saw the pages as the rounds of bread:
I saw the pages as the rounds of life.

They’re the front and back covers of my life.


Don’t fear the flowers, come now in a rush,
have made the pure dawn blush:

their soft lip-prints, scattered here and there
upon the meadow’s sprouting body everywhere
are not like winter’s frosty prints:
they’re nature’s first and freest kisses.

To set a rose upon this bosom’s innocence,
such godlike loveliness as this is,
would be to snip the light in strips to blot and dry
the redness of the stars up in the sky.


They melt the evening sunrays down to lullabyes
sung by a thoughtful and a witty breeze;
the dusk breathes life into the velvet dark
and pours its stars upon their thighs and knees;

They’re mesmerizing time and space, quite unaware,
to play each other at their keenest pitch:
what is the instrument and what the player?
They don’t care which is which.

The cosmos hums with love for them as they
gaze with their lucid retinas upon
the Song Hong river heaving its red away
into the empty chest of the horizon.

They blow aside their pearl-black hair,
stirring the Vinh Bac Bo in sweeping waves,
their faces mirrors where
the bold sun blinds itself with its own rays.

The mountain-shoulders glow with their embroidery,
life-painted with the multicolored crops above:
doves drop a feather for their dignity,
migrating high there in the shape of love.

Touch-me-not flowers, their subtle grace
lights up in Vietnam a second sky;
they dance pure-throated musics made of time and space
and add to science a new DNA.

They choreograph with fingers so precise
sonnets that few can read or know entire,
spreading compassion’s net of sacrifice,
making the dragon body of the land breathe fire.

Mounting their bikes, putting their helmets on,
they make a second galaxy below,
dress up the provinces in the sheer silk of the moon,
as fireflies coat the street with glow.

With leaves and petals in their wake, they can transport
the boys’ blown minds thus vacuumed out by charm--
a miracle of living human art
between reality and dream.

Don’t judge them by their coolie hats as they go by.
don’t take a loganberry for a lychee, please.
their virtue’s painted in a dragon’s eye,
although their kindness is a summer breeze.

Their modesty adds to their flag a blush that stings,
stands ready to tear from their red hearts the golden star
and fold its corners to a jet-plane’s wings,
a lightning-bolt that strikes from near or far.

But then the ocean’s rippled by their smiles,
blown kisses turn the ripples into waves,
their fresh breaths take the shape of silken sails,
mating the opposed powers of water and of wind.

Budded in heaven, bloomed in the world of nature,
they leave behind them angel images everywhere
in magic stretched to fairy fantasy:
of the whole world’s women the glad epitome.

Their eyelids sheathe the legends of their country,
Ly Phan Dong’s unwritten diaries of an emperor,
a new precinct in the Temple of Literature
where knowledge likes to sign its fiery signature.

May the calligraphers take my wish to be a prayer
to be the newest province of their own New Year.


       For my wife Dusita, ICU Nurse

If COVID 19 strokes you, I demand
that I may share its prickly spikes with you,
not just through your angelic healing hand,
but your diviner soul and body too.

As you breathe life into the almost dead,
love is your best and surest PPE;
if life were but for one, not to be shared,
then life here was not made for you and me.

We’ll use each other’s lungs for ventilators,
compassion’s breath will circulate between;
the gods will smile on us, their emulators,
at one of heaven’s two gates we’ll enter in:

either up there among the rainy skies,
or down here in this world of tears and sighs.

Poems translated from the Albanian by Gjek Marinaj and Frederick Turner