Nguyen Quang Thieu: Chapter 5 (from Slaughterhouse)

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The pottery vase drinks fire
The child drinks milk
Fire is blood flowing undyingly in the flesh and bone of the vase

The old wooden table
The huge roses.

Like the first cold breeze she glides through the half-open door. She takes the roses with her. The crimson dawn. The vases were born in the deep soil where the dead woman wanders. The fetuses grow slowly in their graves.
He woke up. Roses covered the entire night. The rose petals are wet, soft with tangled veins.

More patient and silent than the farmers on the fields.

The roses have to live.

More full of pain and thirsty than a condemned man.

The roses have to live.

Among rose thorns she is tousled. A blood drop born on her chest. He turns away. The roses raise their voice. He turns away. The roses blossom more and more across her chest.

The slaughterhouse owner looks at him. He evaluates cow, hammer, stabbed knife, blood-filled bucket, and him. The terracotta jars are endless. The owner is afraid to look into the bottom of the jars.

The first cow killed by him spit on his face. His killing was so clumsy. One horn was broken and thrown away. The cow roared in anger. The cow would not have a precise death. Blood sprayed from the broken horn. A chain of red orchids. The neck of darkness sparkling.

The huge roses of the world. The garden is so far it’s as if it didn’t exist. The woman is a black cat. She moans from a passioned dark hole. She refuses all but trees.

Terracotta jars connect each other to the endless. Half-cooked blood pieces on a white porcelain plate. The beautiful teeth sink deeply into boiled blood. Gastronomically imaginative, vị giác, and odious.

The roses have to live

Rose roots crawl into his brain every night. She cried time after time under the roses. The pale houses of someday in the past still appear. The houses are blind with windows. The huge roses of the world. We are naked in our weeping. Cloth was piled at the end of the bed. The paintings escaped deeply into the walls.
That garden is out of sight and the woman
Digs a grave for herself in her dream every night
Digs and looks and tries on her life in the grave
As if trying on jewelry at the jewelers
But never consenting to the jewelry of death.
She is aristocratic and fastidious with her death.

The first cow had died. A dark day fell down on the roses. One petal fell down.
The flies cling to the roses. They lick all over the roses. They are too full, and as round and black as drops of Chinese ink. They fly wayward because they ate the beauty.
She: The roses are so heavy they make it difficult for me to breathe.
He: I will be blind in one winter.
She: I am dizzy while arranging roses. The Doctor said I am anemic.
He: The roses hid their roots in the morning.
She: I saw the strangers in my dream.
He: The flies didn’t sleep all night. They watched me. They pushed one another, pedaled each other, breaking their bellies open.
She: I hear the fly’s voice….

The flies push one another.
They throw back their black wings.
They sing:

“We were born from filth
You (God) gave us a voice but not the voice of the nightingale
You gave us wings but not the wings of the eagle.

You punish us.
We are images of the devil
Everyone finds us disgusting,
But we are only innocent children
Lost between rose and rubbish.
We have to be punished by You,
But we are only innocent children,
We are the letters of the alphabet,
Scribbled letters
Written day and night.
We have to set type for our entire lives
For humans to read to understand the dirt,
To understand honesty,
To understand hate,
To understand blindness

We spread our wings to fly,
The dirty spots, blackened memories.
We swoop down on the roses,
The dirt stained to beauty.
We cry in the summer night,
The dreams suddenly stop.
Our buzzing,
The mornings of sin fades.
Who must disguise themselves under the cloak of a fly?
God won’t save us from bewitchment
But will give us a chance.
In the limits of our punishment,
We are turned into alphabet letters,
We carry the message of disgrace.
When the world becomes clean,
Our cloaks will disappear,
And we will become the mischievous
Children of desire
We play pranks and chase after science waking up,
And lose the trail at the horizon.

The slaughterhouse owner took a piece of wood to beat the terracotta jars.
The heavy and bass roars of the cows. All are full.

The roses have to live

Fire is still interminable in the flesh and skin of the pottery vases,

And the roses try to live.

She puts porcelain plates on the table.
The voice of the child demanding food resounds from the invisible chair.
Thank You God for giving us cereal.
A thousand times thank you for giving us a voice,
The voice of the spirit rises up like an October dawn
Over the heavy body of the world.

He will wake at daybreak
The flies wait,
Fly into the room.
The bullets hunt for sensation.

The summer is burning around the windows,
The wooden table.
The pottery vase,
The distant flies.
She is crying on the edge of summer.
He understands her fear,
Solitary and disorderly
Diseased and free.

The roses have to live.


Nguyen Quang Thieu is one of Viet Nam’s most widely read writers, and the author of over forty books of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, and poetry and fiction in translation.  For over thirty years he has worked closely with Kevin Bowen at the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and its Social Consequences at U-Mass. Boston on a variety of translation and cultural exchange projects, forging a new understanding between our two countries.  He is currently President of the Viet Nam Writers Association, a Ministerial position in Viet Nam, where he has devoted his energies to supporting writers in Viet Nam and to spreading Vietnamese Literature across the globe.