the ship

Nhã Thuyên

it comes right around the time of the morning sky's fullest beauty, the clouds more pure, i assure myself, it will be all right, the boat slowly leaves the port, each slab of water laps and laps, laboriously, he boarded the ship, beautiful as a morning statue, my hand has someone squeezing it lightly, lumps of trash bob at the bank by the force of the waves, the tides will rise and carry them away, i can't board the boat with him now, my mouth muscles part when i see a lonely sandal that some pieces of trash cling to, bobbing like a boat, pitiful, a death somehow drifting right before my eyes, a lonely sandal, a floating dead sandal grotesque, an ugly existence, he's on the ship, i hear his words echoing to please be well for the day we meet again, my hand is full of the hot breath of another hand, someone there, someone's there assuring me, clouds float pure and clean on sky underwater, but the bobbing trash strains my eyes, it's not worth dreaming of a shared journey, a lovely fat pig isn't it, he mentioned earlier in talking about the ship, i imagined he suddenly changed his mind, he'd stay with me, who knows where a herd of pigs could fly, i said, just like the albatross of baudelaire, he said, but i don't know french, i said, doesn't matter, it's really hard to love in this season, he said, of such spleen, i don't want to say anything more to him, i don't want to love anyone right now, this season, this mood, in front of the ship leaving this bank, i had a flashing ambition to know the scheme of the Waves as they capture the little sand crabs, i try to guess the meaning of existence in a herd of trash on the sea and naturally i look silent, truly absurd, he seems to say, baudelaire eh, my slip of the tongue, is there any poetry not absurd, void and vapid, no, the look of that dark silence, he says, does he mean me, i'm not sure, i don't look at him, but i stress every word, suddenly my speaking is charged, you know very well that i don't know french, don't know a single word, i can't read any poem in french, although i think i miss them very much, geniuses, dark, revolts, emancipation, verlaine, rimbaud, apollinaire, i mean to say more, i want to read lautréamont, jean de bosschère, pierre jean jouve, cocteau, francis ponge, raymond queneau, names i clipped from a conversation with some french gentleman, a conversation i remember nothing of, but i try to hold some names, to stroke the feelings of foreignness that keep me in this life's relationships, a wave laps laboriously, each layer piling up, the waves gather in my throat, biting salt, tight breath, delight, words are harmless though, he says, so be quiet, i'm wailing but believe he can't hear, i can't bear the disorder of a morning, he should know my habits, i always need quiet in the mornings, i'm not even recovered from my deep sleep yet, sleep is death, i'm recovering, truly absurd, shakespeare eh, i say that sleep is the least stupid, i know you are longing for a new day, you are composed and consequently you are optimistic about life, i know, you can transform like light, and i, i'm stingy, deceitful, i'm dark and i'm anguished, truly absurd he says these adjectives are, wild thoughts, melancholy, i live harmlessly, you know that trick, unfaithful and chaotic poems are leaping from the fingertips, in truth harmlessness is the most absurd at this time, in this country, he says, could you stay quiet so i can speak, the words emancipating themselves from fingertips that get gradually worn down from a tedious life in the space of this stupefied laptop keyboard the hand can feel the utter stupidity of it, no, apart from the keyboard, still there, he says, no, i know, so you stay quiet and let me speak, apart from the keyboard, still jabbing down into the pants, groping, massaging, break an egg in the pan, full smell of garlic and onion, to pick the nose, to seize the throat, to poke the eye, i know the fingers have many functions, but isn't conforming to function just the way an object exists, the way of utterly stupid obedience to a programmed system, the life of an existence should be rebellious and breakthrough, but so what the emancipation of words utterly stupid too he says, emancipation eh, in the end he emancipated himself, like light, he is so composed, like morning, only i am murky, not recovered from sleep yet, i feel myself so absurd, so aren't i already more composed, self-conscious absurdity, i will do nothing more harmless than write unfaithful and chaotic poems, with utterly stupid fingers crying out for emancipation by way of obedience to instinct, emancipation by way of obedience, truly absurd, no obedience leads to emancipation, should break through and rebel, should have courage to see falling blood, someone is smiling, someone is gently squeezing my hand, someone there, someone is gently squeezing my hand, someone is inviting me on a journey up the road, right above the port, i refuse like i'm not refusing, i know it is not the right time, waves lap, time laps, singing its life trash bobs, someone is calling me, a call of deranged arrogance, exacting, shadowy, i am just deprived of my love, but so what, i am standing here, love is not worth anything if it doesn't end in boarding this hulking pig and leaving, but what worth is there in leaving together on this hulking pig, someone is grabbing my hand and gently squeezing, someone's calling, but someone is grabbing my hand and gently squeezing, assuring me isn't it, holding me isn't it, a hot breath keeping me calm by assuring me, why should it keep ending in leaving and not end in staying, leaving or staying are equally valuable or worthless, i lift my hand up to the light, i feel nothing except the invisible needles shaped in the rays of light pricking the shell of my wilting hand, he's left, only his shadow is grabbing my hand gently squeezing like it has the evil will to destroy, am i bestowed with or suffering from the hot breath of that shadow, his shadow is still here, a bit more reluctant to part with me, or someone is there, the hand of someone else is gently squeezing my hand, someone there, someone's there gently squeezing my hand, someone wants me to board the ship, someone wants me to stay, someone invites me warmly, someone loves me gently, someone holds me, someone is calling out for me, someone loves me, someone leaves me, someone vanishes in the light, i lift my hand up, i feel nothing except the invisible needles shaped in the rays of light pricking the shell of my wilting hand, i still see a lonely sandal that some pieces of trash cling to, bobbing like a boat, a drifting death, a floating dead sandal grotesque, an ugly existence, i know i have nothing left to wait for, nothing left to feed my spleen, i only need a bit more time to kill that considerate shadow, kill it directly in the light, i cannot bear the disorder of a morning, i need peace to recover, therefore, i need a bit more time to kill that shadow, those shadows, warm and bright . . .

translated from the Vietnamese by Kaitlin Rees

Read an essay by Nhã Thuyên on Nguyễn Quốc Chánh elsewhere in this issue.