Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

My Father's Sister

My Father's Sister

By Nguyen Duc Mau

Years of hunger set my relatives adrift.
My aunt moved to Thanh Hoa province where she married a Thanh Hoa man.

For years, she has been the daughter-in-law in a distant land.
I never met her husband,
and longed to see him during Tet and on the death day anniversaries
when relatives gathered from everywhere.
But my aunt carries the misfortune
of one, who in her youth, had a widow's band tied around her head.

Why did she not take another step and marry again?
Why did she not find her way back to our home village?
My mother said she had to care for her flock of young children,
that being so far away and so poor, she couldn't return.

But one day, thirty years later,
my aunt returned with her flock of children to pay their respects.
Her children had grown up,
but her parents' home was empty of all but the smoke of incense
which grew thick as my aunt's sorrow.

My aunt led her children around our village
and they knelt together before the graves of her parents.
Incense sticks burned above the tangle of grass.
My aunt became a shadow, silent and fading.

I look at her back, bent over from her hardships.
Most of her life has withered, longing for home.
Her hair has whitened, yet she is still adrift.
Oh my homeland, the leaf again falls to the tree's roots.

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


Nguyen Duc Mau

Born in 1948 in Nam Định Province, Nguyen Duc Mau fought as a soldier during the Vietnam-America War. He is the author of nine collections of poems: Green Trees on the Land of Fire (1973), The Shirt of Combat (1976), Rain in the Burning Forest (1976), Epic for an Army Division (1980), Red Flowers on the Riverhead (1987), From Summer into Fall (1992), Storm and After Storm (1994), (1998), and A Flock of Yellow Warblers (2004). He is also an author of two novels, a book of short stories, and a novella. Nguyen Duc Mau has been awarded the First Prize of the Literature Newspaper's Poetry Competition (1972-1973), the Poetry Award from the Vietnam Writers' Association (1998), the National Literature and Arts Award (2000), and the Poetry Award from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (2001).

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