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My Aunt

My Aunt

By Thach Quy

Time passes
and settles like white flowers in my aunt's hair.
In her words, the countless stories of the past
turn the deep color of aging things.
Once her lacquered box was a bright vermillion.
She went to festivals with her basket of red areca nuts, and her fragrant betel leaves.
Those days seem to have been drowned by time,
now my aunt sits stoking the fires, whispering deep into the night.
In her I can hear the color of morning light,
I hear the sound of her wooden clogs with the soft rattan straps.
I see my grandfather plowing his fields
and my grandmother drying clothes with tender hands.
I see the villagers at the spring festival
swinging through the air with their red scarves;
the days when illiterate people knew The Tale of Kiều* by heart,
when poor villagers enshrined the ritual of grave-visiting
so children could pay respect to their grandparents,
and the pagodas brought us closer to those who had gone.
My aunt has sat silently
as the coal of the stove flowers into flame.
All her life she has not traveled far,
she is not used to train stations and docks.
All her life she has grown silkworms and woven silk,
and worked on the high and low paddy fields.
Eighty now, she is somewhat slender,
and on her face there's a youthful happiness.
She sleeps little at night,
her heart worrying about her grandchildren.
She is the late moon moving towards a mountain,
and as long as she stays in the sky, she will continue to shine.
Her story is long, and her fire warms in winter.
She is the bridge between our ancestors and us.

* Written by the great Vietnamese poet Nguyen Du, The Tale of Kiều is an epic poem of 3,254 verses and is one of the most significant works of Vietnamese literature.

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


Thach Quy

Born in 1941 at Trung Sơn Hamlet, Nghệ An Province, Thach Quy is a poet and teacher. He graduated from the Faculty of Mathematics, the Pedagogical University of Vinh. His publications include Poetry and the Soil (a joint poetry collection, 1967), A Rock and a Branch (poems, 1973), The Source of Rain (poems for children, 1978), A Tà Vặt Bird (poems, 1985), Just You in the End (poems, 1996), and Christmas Night (poems, 2004).

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