Poetry International 5
Special Feature: The New Poets of Vietnam
The girl who works in the warehouse
leaves her second-floor room.
She switches on the staircase light,
her face agitated in the glow,
and hesitates a little
before the street subsumes her world.
Inevitably, she will go to the café this morning,
cradling her first cup in her coat.
It's cold on the street now
and this café she loves is warming up.
How she dreams of staying longer!
To sit at a corner table
or listen to music.
And who knows,
maybe all of a sudden
love will come!
A row of corrugated gray huts
Hunkering down in the November rain.
Across the way the fire burns night and day
Though unseen now in sunlight. Bernard
Wakens to the bouquet of warming milk
And burned coffee. It will he said later
He had the bearing of an angel
With clear eyes, a wide untroubled brow,
Thick golden curls. His mother's home
From the night shift to prepare his day,
So he rises and stands as a man
On the cold linoleum. The Rouge plant,
Where she works nights, goes on burning
And banging but neither notices.
It's their life. Nonsense, we say, how can
The life of an angel include a Ford plant
Where the things of the earth are tortured
Into items? You and I saw the girl Mary
In a rose gown shyly bowing before
A dazzling Gabriel, his pale wings furled,
This in an empty church in Genoa
Two seasons ago, the painting stained
But the scene recognizable: That was
An angel bathed in his own light,
Bearing the gift of a God, a terrifying
Presence from another world. When Bernard
Bows to dip bread in his coffee
His mother lays one hand softly down
On his bare nape as though she knows
lie will die eleven years from now
In a fiery crash on U.S. 24
On his way to Dayton and thus leave
His only son behind. In this world
The actual occurs. In November
The rain streams skyward in cold sheets,
The fires burn unseen, the houses
Bear down, separate and scared.
How a bed once dressed with a kindly quilt becomes
unsleepable site of anarchy What body-holes expressed
their exaltation loathing exhaustion
what horse of night has pawed those sheets
what talk under the blanket ravelled
what clitoris lain very still in her own subversion
what traveller homeward reached for familiar bedding
and felt stiff tatters under his fingers
How a bed is horizontal yet this is vertical
inarticulate liquids spent from a spectral pillow
How on a summer night someone drives out on the roads
while another one lies ice-packed in dreams of freezing
Sometimes this bed has eyes, sometimes breasts
sometimes eking forth from its laden springs
pity compassion pity again for all they have worn and borne
Sometimes it howls for penis sometimes vagina sometimes
for the nether hole the everywhere
How the children sleep and wake
the children sleep awake upstairs
How on a single night the driver of roads comes back
into the sweat-cold bed of the dreamer
leans toward what's there for warmth
human limbs human crust
of the immensity
above the debris
And the man
over the water
by the sun
Wafting in pieces and
Until my fingers learn
The way your fingers taught me,
Fumbling, I find the keys, one
By one, by rote, by feel, by sheer
It is like learning a new
Language, a new way of thinking
How vowels and consonants
Console one another,
As if they could contain grief
By boxing it into tiny squares.
Not having your voice
But only my own to echo
Back, what words can I say
To ease the silence
How to pronounce singular.
This is the widow's grief.
To know what can,
And cannot be done,
Which places are safe alone,
Which rooms must not be entered.