Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

The Shadow of Homeland

The Shadow of Homeland

By Tran Quang Quy

Grandma died.  My sadness lingers because I couldn't come back in time to say goodbye.
In you, my aunt, I feel Grandma still.
She is there in your facial features, and in your figure
silhouetted against the darkness and light of the paddy field where you sow new seeds.

Grandma gave birth many times, yet only two of her children lived: you and my father.
You let me continue living the life of Grandma.
You wake up each footprint splayed into the soil and each
slippery step on both the raised and eroded banks of the River Da,
where our many fates have been sowed in a field of destiny.

The seasons of hoarfrost have whitened your hair.
Clouds drift aimlessly across an emptying sky.
I remember the days your palm-leaf coat was shredded by the wind.
You were thin and with the twisted and hardship-laden bamboo basket on your head.
Your feeble shadow fell across the endless country road.
You still sing to me the lullabies you sang, heavy with salt and river silt,
as you carried me to school along the old roads of my childhood.

I see you on the dyke balancing the bamboo pole
bearing the late afternoons on your shoulders,
bearing the twilights that stream down your face
bearing the changing seasons and their turbulence.
I learn from you the lessons of sweat and of the time when the trees bear fruit.
I learn the fairytales that farmers pass on to their children and grandchildren
so that we may know how to harvest in the fields of benevolence and righteousness.

Grandma's stories are coming back to me.
Your late night coughing, my aunt, sends sharp pains through my chest.
I watch your bent back and miss Grandma.
Yet strangely, my mind is at peace whenever I return to our home village.
There, your shadow, or Grandma's settles deep into the life of our homeland!

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


Tran Quang Quy

Born in 1955 in Phú Thọ Province, Tran Quang Quy is currently the Vice Director of the Vietnam Writers' Association Publishing House. He is the author of six collections of poems: Writing for You in the Narrow House (1990), Soulful Eyes (1993), Dreams Shaped as Chopping Boards (2003), Face Supermarket (2006), the Human Field (2010), and The Free Color of the Earth (2012). Tran Quang Quy has received many literary prizes including, twice, the Poetry Award from the Vietnam Writers' Association (2004 and 2012) and The Golden Rice Flower Prize, for his writings on agriculture and country life (2011). His short stories also earned him third prize for short story from the Hanoian Newspaper in 1996. He is also the author of the short story collection The Moon-Lighted River Bank (2010).

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