Nguyen Quang Thieu: Chapter 7 (from Slaughterhouse)

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When the city subsided into sleep, he came to this place.

The trees along the street like giants in the overalls of glittering stars.
In his childhood, he thought they were the bodyguards of God
So he was frightened before God’s image, with the fear of a little boy.
But now he believes God visited his divided house.
He sat down by his family’s plates of food and looked at his children with loving and protective eyes.
That is the day the grain flowers blossomed in the rise of bows.
That is the day he put the brilliant flowers into the dark vase.
That is the day the wind chimes on his balcony rang out and his house became a small church.
That is the day the white peonies shined like Christmas lights.
That is the day he smiled at everyone he met and wanted to give a gift to them all,
But he didn’t understand why God would sigh before standing up to leave,
Although His friend said: ‘’God never sighs.’’

In front of the lit up city post office building all night, the church is silent in darkness.
He remembers one Christmas he came here and hid himself in the crowd.
He thought that no one would know he was a layman, and no one would know he was afraid,
But when all Christians in the church and on the grounds were making the sign of the cross,
He knew that he was discovered among the crowd because of his shame,
And he was confused to say:

Father, I am not a liar to hide among Your faithful and be sprinkled holy water.

He looked up, his only way. And He heard a voice:

When you know how to look up with your fear, it will be your most sincere prayer.

Then he didn’t come to church and he couldn’t learn by heart even one sentence from the Holy Book.
Standing apart from the church, he feels ashamed, fearful, so sad, and says:

I am bad and vicious, so Your eyes never reach me. I stand under a barren tree and all around me is the rubbish of the city, with whores and smugglers, and the emotionless men of this country who wear costumes at ceremonies for great crowds in the meeting halls.

Then he hears a voice warmer than the breath of fire:

My unfortunate son, I hear your cry even in your dream, although because of where you stand — the darkest place, or the filthiest place of this world — I understand you because you are trembling with fear. Where there is fear I will come. I won’t take the filth away from you, or the fear from your heart. I only come to you and whisper like your father’s voice, like your mother’s voice, like your brothers’ voice and your friend’s voice: My young man, stand up and walk, please.

He heard that voice and he cried for happiness,
But he only comes when the church is in darkness,
Nights without holy festivals, without Christians in beautiful dress,
Without the sounds of the piano and the choir on Christmas Eve,
Without holy water, without the sleepy bellman
Who comes to look up to the church’s steeple
With the hope to see, once in a moment quicker than an eye blink,
The face of God with tangled hair and eyes more bright than all the stars,
The hope to see the sand grains from his feet, and the blood drops
From the holes of his crucified body fall on his spreading hands.
The hope to feel his breath through his unmoving and dry lips.
The hope to hear his voice:

‘’Help me to pull the nails from my body,’’

But he hears a great voice ring out:

My little son, don’t feel pain for my body, don’t hate those who drove the nails in.

He saw that the stars were closer and closer, and his face more brilliant as time passed,
And like someone who has been sick for one hundred years, he trembles:

Father, why am I hungry, thirsty and forever sick?
My little son, I was hungry, thirsty and sick like you.

Father, I am always afraid, even in my dreams.
My little son, I was frightened, like you.

Father, why does the darkness always cover me and threaten me?
My little son, the darkness is only darkness, and it is not of the light. Walk towards the light.

Father, I hear the voice of the devil growl somewhere around me, please drive him away.
My little son, the devil is hiding inside of you. Only your courage can drive him away.

Father, I will collapse.
My little son, I collapsed.

Father, I am weak and hopeless. I could not stand up.
My little son, I was weak, and I stood up.

Father, please bring me to your land so I will see light and freedom.
My little son, light and freedom begins at the place where you stand and walk into darkness.

Father, someone dropped snakes into my soul.
My little son, no one did that. These snakes are you, yourself, and I saw the same snakes in my own soul.

Father, please help to drive the snakes from my soul.
Oh my small and poor angel, only when you judge yourself will the snakes disappear from your soul.

Father, what do I have to do now?
My little angel, stand up by yourself and step over the darkness.

Father don’t leave me, please.
My little angel, I am always with my scared and unhappy sons. Even though it’s only you who think of me, I will not leave the world forever. Only you believe that miracles will be performed.

He stood up. He walked. He sees
Freedom opening up with each of his steps.
Music flows from his heart,
Light shines from his eyes
And he understands the greatness
Of saving only one unhappy and frightened creature
Who came to this world,
Who came to him and said:
Stand up. I am your trusted fellow traveler.


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.