Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

Mourning Scarves

Mourning Scarves

By Hoang Anh Tuan

Marrying at fifteen,
her breasts were like a pair of areca nuts
beneath her brown under-bodice;
yet her smile, like a deep river, could drown someone,
and her grace was liquor, making those around her drunk.

Her shoulders became worn as she carried sunshine into rain,
dew into wind, midday into afternoon.
Despite her hard-work, her family was still poor.
When is hoarfrost more pricey than the water-fern, and areca nuts so cheap?

She believed in the after life,
that in being kind to others, Buddha would bless us.
On her verandah, the gourd plant was heavy with fruit,
yet childless herself, she bore everything alone.

The crows' feet around her eyes distorted time.
She withered as her tears soaked the night.
She had to share her only husband with other women
and felt sorry for them, as they missed their chance to cross the river in a proper boat.

Countless worries and anxieties filled her life.
My aunt was like a water bird scavenging along the riverbank.

This afternoon we laid her to rest in the middle of a paddy field.
Waves of rice plants blossomed, singing her lullabies.
At the end of the hilly range, the eyes of the gạo flowers are red,
the clouds become eternal mourning scarves around the sky's forehead.

Translated by Thieu Khanh, Nguyen Phan Que Mai, and Kwame Dawes


Hoang Anh Tuan

Born in 1984 in Lào Cai Province, Hoang Anh Tuan is a member of the Lào Cai Writers' Association. He has just published his first collection of poems entitled The Season of Drying Skirts (Vietnam Writers' Association Publishing House). Hoang Anh Tuan's poems have been printed in key Vietnamese newspapers and magazines including the Literature Newspaper, the Writers Magazine, and the Vietnam Poetry Review Magazine.

Return To TOC