Thơ xuân đất khách (Thanh Nam)

Đàm Trung Pháp

“SPRING POEM WRITTEN IN EXILE”

A POEM BY THANH NAM

The calendar leaf marking the new year nonchalantly droppedTờ lịch đầu năm rớt hững hờ

Reminding me that seasons had changed Mới hay năm tháng đã thay mùa

Since the day I left as an expatriateRa đi từ thuở làm ly khách

Two springs of homesickness had willy-nilly gone bySầu xứ hai xuân chẳng đợi chờ

Drifting from the East to the NorthTrôi giạt từ Đông sang cõi Bắc

The trip was a glaring load of sorrowsHành trình trơ một gánh ưu tư

In a foreign land, expatriation gnawed at meQuê người nghĩ xót thân lưu lạc

In an unfamiliar environment, I wondered about my journeyĐất lạ đâu ngờ buổi viễn du

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Awake or asleep it was me alone in humiliationThức ngủ một mình trong tủi nhục

The miles were long, my feet tired, my steps forsaken – Dặm dài chân mỏi bước bơ vơ

Like a soldier who had just been defeatedGiống như người lính vừa thua trận

I lay on the battlefield, shattered by wind and rainNằm giữa sa trường nát gió mưa

Eyes closed I tried to forget about my warrior life Khép mắt cố quên đời chiến sĩ

To become a vegetable slumped on a riverbankLàm thân cây cỏ gục ven bờ

Suddenly from the bottom of my wounded soulChợt nghe từ đáy hồn thương tích

I heard bugles commemorating dreams of yesteryearVẳng tiếng kèn truy điệu mộng xưa

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Alas, home country and old friendsỚi hỡi quê hương bè bạn cũ

What was your fate amidst this calamityNhững ai còn mất giữa sa mù

We lost one another that late springMất nhau từ buổi tàn xuân đó

No tidings from home, not even a letterKhông một tin nhà, một cánh thư

Pining in an endless wait for your newsBiền biệt thời gian mòn mỏi đợi

My tangled mind is like snow flurriesRối bời tâm sự tuyết đan tơ

People have twelve months a yearMột năm người có mười hai tháng

For me, the whole long year is just one April! Ta trọn năm dài Một Tháng Tư!

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Accepting two lives for one birthChấp nhận hai đời trong một kiếp

I am enduring the whims of a brutal tempest Đành cho giông bão phũ phàng đưa

Reincarnated in this worldĐầu thai lần nữa trên trần thế

I will have to finish off this parasitic lifeKéo nốt trăm năm kiếp sống nhờ

Reversing the order of family and first namesĐổi ngược họ tên cha mẹ đặt

Imitating infants that babble puerile speechTập làm con trẻ nói ngu ngơ

Burying the past deep into the dust Vùi sâu dĩ vãng vào tro bụi

My condition is less than that of a villainThân phận không bằng đứa mãng phu

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The card game has not started, yet my money is lostCanh bạc chưa chơi mà hết vốn

The chess game still has moves for me, but I must give it upCờ còn nước đánh phải đành thua

I want to shed tears when dreams fadeMuốn rơi nước mắt khi tàn mộng

Fathomlessly high is the price of Freedom!Nghĩ đắt vô cùng giá Tự Do

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Among friends who made it to this countryBằng hữu qua đây dăm bảy kẻ

Some are nursing grudge, others have not given upĐứa nuôi cừu hận, đứa phong ba

Yet some are leading a complacent lifeĐứa nằm yên phận vui êm ấm

Or enduring a humiliating superfluous existence Đứa nhục nhằn lê kiếp sống thừa

While clouds and water have a chance to meet again Mây nước có phen còn hội ngộ

Our dear friends in exile are still afarThâm tình viễn xứ lại như xa

This spring I welcome my approaching fifth decadeXuân này đón tuổi gần năm chục

By getting inebriated all by myselfĐối bóng mình ta say với ta

THANH NAM (1931-1985)

One of the most cherished literati in pre-1975 Saigon was the writer and poet Thanh Nam [1]. This popular author of more than twenty novels was also noted for his exquisite poetry. People loved Thanh Nam because of his intellectual probity – he wrote about life as he had actually lived it. Thus, his prose and his poetry were all about real life. “Thanh Nam’s real soul penetrates his literary works,” noted Bình Nguyên Lộc [2]. “The style is the man himself. This saying fits Thanh Nam perfectly,” declared Mai Thảo [3]. Although his first novel was published in Saigon in 1957, he started writing in Hanoi in the early 1950s. In 1952, he moved to Saigon and flourished in the literary circle there until the collapse of South Vietnam in 1975.

If we needed just one publication to introduce Thanh Nam, that would be his 1983 poetic collection “Đất khách” (“In exile”); and if we needed to read just one poem typical of him, that would be his “Thơ xuân đất khách” (“Vernal poem written in exile”).

Thanh Nam penned “Thơ xuân đất khách” in Seattle on February 18, 1977, which was also the first day of the Lunar Year of the Snake (Đinh Tỵ). This first day of the lunar year is a most solemn time, during which the Vietnamese honor their ancestors, visit relatives and friends, wear their nicest clothes, and rejoice. His suffering from culture shock and nostalgia imbues the content of this poem [4].

NOTES AND REFERENCES

[1] Thanh Nam was the pen name of Trần Đại Việt, who was born on August 26, 1931 in Nam Định, North Vietnam. He died on June 2, 1985 in Seattle. Among his major works are Hồng Ngọc (1953), “Người nữ danh ca” (1953), Giấc ngủ cô đơn (1963), Buồn ga nhỏ (1963), Còn một đêm nay (1963), Bầy ngựa hoang (1965), Giòng lệ thơ ngây (1965), Những phố không đèn (1965), Mấy mùa thương đau (1968), Đất khách (1983).

[2] Bình Nguyên Lộc (1966). Một tác giả viết về một tác giả: Thanh Nam dưới mắt Bình Nguyên Lộc. Tuần Báo Nghệ Thuật issue 36 dated June 18, 1966.

[3] Thanh Nam dưới mắt trời Tây Bắc. In Mai Thảo (1985), Chân Dung. Westminster, CA: Văn Khoa.

[4] How political refugees cope with a new life in America has been observed by social scientists. According to them, it is a painful and complex psychological process that consists of four phases: (1) euphoria, the time during which the displaced people feel extremely glad that they have somehow received a new lease on life; (2) culture shock; (3) stability; and (4) acculturation. Euphoria is only short-lived and may not mean much, but culture shock could last a long time and make their new lives miserable. Its duration depends on the individuals: the older they are, the longer their culture shock will last; and perhaps suffering the most during this trying time would be the sentimental artist whose heart bleeds easily.

[ĐTP 11/2017]