Do Kh.

Do Kh. is an unusual character. Well-traveled, with a Lebanese wife, he is the only Vietnamese to write about the Arab world with feelings and authority. His short story, "Không khí thời chưa chiến" ["The Pre-War Atmosphere"], is not about the Vietnamese conflict but the Lebanese one. Translated into English, it's included in Night, Again: contemporary fiction from Vietnam. Born in Haiphong in 1955, Do Kh. went south immediately after, then France in 1968, returned to Saigon in 1973 to join the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, quitted after six months, emigrated to France in 1975, later the US, and now divides his time between Paris and California. His main preoccupation is wandering, he's declared, with writing and film making mere diversions. Here's a RRR-rated trailer for his "Saigon, Samedi." His poems are often XXX, however, a fact that titillates half of his readers, annoys and infuriates the other half. I prefer a less aroused, more contemplative effort such as this, in my translation:

Night Song of Ceylon

We are laborers from Ceylon
Boarding the airplane at 4:25 AM
To change pillowcases, empty ashtrays and pick up blankets
We are small, brown-skinned, with curly hair
Colombo by night
We don’t wear panties to dance on bar tables
We hold brooms
We hold vacuum cleaners
We have thin chests, short legs, and hair held in buns
Song of Ceylon
O Robert Flaherty
We don’t have gold nose rings
   First woman: I have a child at home
      Who’s sleeping with his father
      His father works during the day

   Second woman: I have two children at home
      Who are sleeping with their paternal grandmother
      Their father is a laborer overseas

   Third woman: I have three children at home
      Who are sleeping with each other
      I don’t know where their father is
      Whether in the Army or with a lover

We don’t greet the nodding passengers
Traveling from Singapore to Dubai
They are going from the Philippines to Oman to build
From Thailand to Abu Dhabi to clean and sweep
From Indonesia to Kuwait to babysit and raise chickens
   (I take care of other people’s children
   But when I go home on leave
      I’ll buy for my own child a computer
game as a present)
(And I’m saving money to get married)
      (And I’m working to pay off debts)

On the United Arab Emirates airliner they are nodding off to sleep
Sleep well all you long distance laboring heroes
We also don’t greet the air stewardess
From England Finland Denmark and Egypt (with dyed blond hair)
We do not greet them
We are the laborers from Ceylon
Boarding the airplane before dawn
We walk on the runway carrying trash bags.


Unknown said...

Thanks to Linh Dinh for posting this poem.

Anonymous said...

Does Do Kh write his short stories and poems in Vietnamese? and if so, who translated this poem?

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