Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

My Mother's Sister

My Mother's Sister

By Nguyen Thanh Nga

My aunt carries her mangled sadness
on a tottering bamboo pole.
As a street seller, she sings to sell her life
by calling out into the night.

When my mother got married and left home,
my aunt cried to the late moon.
She guarded and worshipped at the ancestral altar.
Alone, she burned incense.

She is the record of war:
bombs burned scars into her face.
Agent Orange seeped deeply into her blood.
Pain condensed on her unseasoned beauty.

She wears a mask
and floats towards the city
where the polluted waters of the black channels wash her,
where the slums shelter her,
and abandoned children warm her heart.

She picked those children from the trash heaps
as if picking up the cries of her womanhood.
She nurtured them tirelessly.

I welcome the children as my relatives,
and realize they are my flesh and blood,
that my aunt gave birth to them with her love.

I have called out: Oh Auntie,
please let me call you Mama!
You sang me lullabies of the clattering packhorse
that knocked against the night, bruising it.

Translated by Nguyen Phan Que Mai, and Kwame Dawes


Nguyen Thanh Nga

Born in 1958 in Quảng Ngãi Province, Nguyen Thanh Nga is the author of four collections of poems (Longing for Green, Seeing Through the Other Pair of Eyes, The Origin of Surprise, and Knock). He has been honored with numerous literary awards including First Prize of the Japanese Haiku Poetry Competition (2010), Second Prize of the Poetry competition about Vietnamese Culture from the Ministry of Culture, Information and Tourism of Vietnam, as well as the Huỳnh Văn Nghệ Prize from the Bình Dương Union of Arts and Literature Associations.

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