Nguyen Quang Thieu: Chapter 6 (from Slaughterhouse)

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The slaughterhouse disappeared.

He could not understand, in the field at night
Like a miracle, someone took the slaughterhouse away.
He hears a call resound through the windows. The voice of wild cats
Don’t answer him. He sits silently on the wall about to fall off
Like the artful old men who are sometimes rather deaf
With the eyes of wild animals – the eyes of a despairing lover —
With the smell of wild animal casting something so familiar
With blood that flows torrentially under the peaceful fur,
Flows to a place far away in memory where he could reach even into his dreams
Calls him in the night. Calls his full name, his birth place,
Calls the exact names that he tried to call but suddenly
Stopped in his mouth because of fear

Call him – the male wild animals call the female wild animals.
Call him – the wild beast induces the decoy.
Call him – the moon calls the tide.
Call him – the voice of ancestors awake.

And he goes. Not sleep-walking. The familiar road runs through the city.
He still knows to cross where the red traffic lights
Sometimes last longer than a century.
Every night he asks himself: “did the city die, yet I don’t know?’’
So he still lives in this city, goes to market with death, makes a phone call to death, makes love with death.
Or he died already but his soul is too heavy to leave.
Every night he asks himself: ‘’Is this a graveyard of the men who have too much lust?”
Sometimes he is unable to distinguish if he is living in a death, or if he died in a life.
His time is overcrowded with madmen, magicians, blind people, mutes, the paranoid,
So he still hangs around the city for nearly half a century to find the answer:
……………Why don’t I leave here?

His soul still stirs before each dawn when he wakes by the window
Because there, he has to apologize to a woman
Who always moves back to the darkness to live,
Because there, the children still place one more bowl
And one more pair of chopsticks,
Because there, in a library, he has been waiting for a book for a long time.
In the park he has been waiting for a tree for a long time.
In a cafe where he is, the darkness is blacker than coffee.
And blacker than darkness are the present obsessions that
Signal the new poems that will be born.
Because there, one streetlight that was wrong for a long time suddenly shines.
The rats are excavating food in a garbage can.
Each rat looks like another while being afraid and seduced by their own fur becoming marvelous and brilliant,
Because there, a little boy passes water under the tree,
Looking at the endless ants that crawl along the tree and disappear at the top,
Because there, an old woman, no blood-relation to him, walking and singing.
He can’t know if it’s a ca dao, or a song composed by her,
And sometimes she floats upwards to see the city, but she only sees a big hole,
Because there, he would like to go back to find one man to say:

Deceiving ourselves is our most wonderful ability.

Because there, a bridge still crosses the tired and old river like a dead river’s shadow.
He walked until daybreak but did not cross the bridge
Because there was an angel who disguised herself as a beggar
That he never recognized.
Sometimes he hears the voice of the angel resounding in someone
Walking along the pavement.
He returns to find only bread, sold by an unfortunate woman.
She looks at him with her smile that makes him undecided, and anxious.

Every night he leaves the city to see with his own eyes
The slaughterhouse in the suburban field.
He is thirsty for seeing the cows stand in sleep at the corner of the yard
Covered with flies, these cows are numbered in the order for be killed.
He would like to watch the hammers, tied lines, wood poles, knifes.
He wants to believe his head was shaped by the roars and torrential blood.
He wants to cry, to thrust after each hammer blow.

He wants to sleep by the cows’ breath, hotter than bad summer heat.
He wants to look close to the face of a girl
Who was raped on the newly-skinned cowhide,
Her beautiful body wet with the blood of slaughtered cows.
He wants to come to believe that he never heard the cows say to him
With his mother tongue: Thank you, young man.
He is frightened of that thank you. He escapes that thank you with terrible obsessions.
He wants to believe it is not illusion. Even the odd groans of the sixteen year old girl.
He wants to believe that it was a painful morning, a forever pitiful morning when she was raped on the

bloody, newly-skinned cowhide.

He comes there to confirm that he himself broke the cows’ heads, stabbed the cows and received money.
The cows were killed with the rational reasons of his people,
And so all of his obsessions and reasons are stupid and disorderly before the crowd.

But the reality of blood pours on him to make him crazy.
The reality of blood flows like a huge mineral current that gradually hardens
On the world’s plate in the hopeless night.
He wants to come there to believe that there’s light from the windows,
And snoring, sleep talk, stirring sounds, summer mosquito sounds,
And finally to confirm that he is still alive, after the killing of the cows,
To believe that the eyes of the severed cow’s head look at him like the eyes of an angel,
Look at him warmly. Look at him lovingly. Look at him with forgiveness
And look at him for teaching.
He believes that if he focuses his eyes on the severed cow’s head
He will see things that he could not see with his tear-filed eyes,
But now he cannot see the slaughterhouse
Without the wet sound,
Without the sound of blood flowing into the jars,
Without the sound of falling cows,
Without their roars,
Only silence, like hard blood covering the huge plates of the world,
Silence like a hammer before blowing up a head. Silence like the knife
Before piercing into the throats.
He is frightened to realize that blood flowers bloom over the field in the night,
The deep red, wet petals growing over thorn brushes,
The flowers like blood-filled mouths, the flowers of the nights of his native land.
The flowers grow up from where the cows’ necks are cut off by the young men with the job of
Breaking the head, stabbing and flaying.
The young men died on the field of war when the grain harvest was yellow, and the girls were raped.
Is he walking in sleep? Delirious? Or has He become a mad man so he doesn’t know,
But now before his eyes the hot, blood flowers grow over the road,
Grow over the city, climbing to the roof gardens of buildings.
Growing over the porcelain pots on the balconies, growing over pottery vases forgotten in dark corners.
The blood flowers grow over the spaces. Grow over her body in sleep,
Grow over the next field. Grow faster than trees grow in a dream,
Their roots rushed into his memory faster and stronger than a bullet.
He hears the sound of broken bones and the sound of boiling blood.
The blood flowers grow lush with the burning heat,
But the white clouds still float over his head.
The white clouds float above the field of blood flowers and he looks up.
A song flows down like warm sunlight,
And the words like thousands of bird wings beat in a rush to take wing.

All are real. It is not a dream, not illusion, not guilty paranoia.
The people make blood flower baskets for a ceremony, the men are congratulated.
Also, a young man takes one blood wet flower to offer to a girl: ‘’Happy Birthday.”
Also, a wreath is set on the monument with rites and music.
He has to hold the blood flowers over his head to get to the path.
In the field of the flowers, the bloody mouths are speaking, mourning and praying.
He sings. Not illusion. He is singing.
The bird wings beat in a rush to fly.
The white clouds float. The white clouds float. He is singing. He wipes his tears away.

The blood flowers grow fully around and into the house, the stairway and invade his room,
Growing over his bed, dresser. Growing over clothes hangers. Growing over the tv screen,
Growing over her naked body. Growing deeply into her genitals.
He is standing in the room, among windows, flies, belltower of the far church, love wounds, and
………….his destiny.
The flies see him and stop flying.

– We don’t know how to set the type for his name.

He stands at the center of his room before the pottery vase on the table,
A lone hill with pure fire that moves nonstop in fibers of soil.
He sees that the huge roses of the world are in pain, and patient to grow up,

And on the rose leaves, blood flows nonstop.


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.