Tran Da Tu's "Love Tokens"

The Tran Da Tu poem below is now up on Guernica, a very fine journal of art and politics. In the same issue are interviews with Don DeLillo and Iraqi feminist Yanar Mohammed.

Love Tokens

I’ll give you a roll of barbwire
A vine for this modern epoch
Climbing all over our souls
That’s our love, take it, don’t ask

I’ll give you a car bomb
A car bomb exploding on a crowded street
On a crowded street exploding flesh and bones
That’s our festival, don’t you understand

I’ll give you a savage war
In the land of so many mothers
Where our people eat bullets and bombs instead of rice
Where there aren’t enough banana leaves to string together
To replace mourning cloths for the heads of children

I’ll give you twenty endless years
Twenty years seven thousand nights of artillery
Seven thousand nights of artillery lulling you to sleep
Are you sleeping yet or are you still awake

On a hammock swinging between two smashed poles
White hair and whiskers covering up fifteen years
A river stinking of blood drowning the full moon
Where no sun could ever hope to rise

I’m still here, sweetie, so many love tokens
Metal handcuffs to wear, sacks of sand for pillows
Punji sticks to scratch your back, fire hoses to wash your face
How do we know which gift to send each other
And for how long until we get sated

Lastly, I’ll give you a tear gas grenade
A tear gland for this modern epoch
A type of tear neither sad nor happy
Drenching my face as I wait.

Saigon, 1964

translated from the Vietnamese by Linh Dinh

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