Nguyen Quang Thieu: Chapter 15 (from Slaughterhouse)

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(Letters to Mother)

And he Writes with Sweat

Please don’t wipe the sweat off my body,
The water of my labor,
My flesh and skin, a great salt field.
Please don’t be afraid
When I go to the river bank.
I won’t die,
I am only thirsty
I bend down to touch my lips, as heavy and baked red as steel, to the river,
And the river water boiled.

At three, I went to the garden to dig a small hole with my fingers. Then I sowed a seed. A tree grew. The tree grew into each dawn and was full of light.
At fourteen, I went to the field with the farmers to sow the great bags of seeds,
And during the seasons of grain, I woke up from cold hunger.
At twenty, I walked in the world. Every night, I sowed my words about the fear and sadness of my fellow countrymen. My words grew up in dreams.

My sweat, a proud and strong source of water that has kept flowing since you gave birth to me. You kissed my luminous flesh and skin. You are proud that my sweat flows endlessly across the field of life. My sweat as patient as a camel’s, as strong as the black panther, as thundering as a war horse. My sweat flows like a waterfall under sunlight. When stars appear, my sweat sings like a river that flows to the great sea.

My sweat is brilliant like flowers in the field. My sweat makes me proud. Nothing is more lasting than my feet on the land. Nothing is cleaner than the sweat in my hands. My hands sow the seeds, and my mouth sows the words. Just like that, I could make you smile.

And he writes with tears

Don’t be sad when you look at my tears. You had cried when I grew up. You had cried for me not to be fearful. You had cried and I understood how you were sad in the great darkness. I am not permitted to choose anything to compare to your tears. I can only call them tears.
The night the world was hungry and diseased,
You turned to face the storms, you cried.
On the night the world was full of tears,
You turned to face the world half-buried in darkness, you cried,
Nights the blood flew across the hills.
You looked up at the star-filled sky, and you were silent.


The first time I cried to greet you,
You smiled and picked me up.

The second time I cried for my mistake,
You gently hugged me.

The third time I cried lonely, without tears,
Your hair turned white.

The tears gave me my conscience. The tears washed my soul. The tears taught me how to share. The tears taught me how to be penitent. The tears taught me how to forgive. The tears taught me how to be dedicated. The tears taught me how to wipe away my tears and the tears of others. I can cry because I know how to live. I can cry because I realized that tears make our faces as beautiful as the face of an angel.

And he Writes with Blood

Blood flowed from my ground to the faraway hills.
One patriot fell down in the night.
A million patriots fell down at dawn.
I bend down to lift up a handful of soil,
Warm and resounding.

My blood is you, inside of me.

While I sleep, blood flows
To raise my dreams.
Blood flows for me to stand,
Blood flows for me to walk,
Blood flows for me know how to make fire,
Blood flows for me know how to plant trees,
Blood flows for me to create,
Water flows in the land to bare trees and fruit,
Blood flows in the flesh to give birth to love.

Nothing is more faithful and proud than blood, flowing.
Blood flows for me to have a right to be born.
Blood flows for me to have the right to live.
Blood flows for me to have the right to raise my voice.
Blood flows for me to have the right to love.
Blood flows for me to have the right to breathe.
Blood flows for me to have the right to fall down.
In the last sacred fight,
I am a knight with the sword of words.
I fight for beauty and freedom.

If my blood flows in the darkness,
You will see the stars.
If my blood flows in the fields,
You will see the yellow harvest.
If my blood flows on hilltops,
You will hear the songs
About someone who is born
From a great death.

And he writes with dreams,


The dreams stop my withering,
And my soul grows fresh
In the lightning and thunder of emotion and intellect,
And the children of beauty and thought
Are born from a casual and real mother, life.
The dreams grow
On the hills and fields of the world.
They never wither.
The hills never weep.
The hills are alone and proud
At dawn and at dusk.
The darkness is as deep as hell,
But the hills grow magnificently,
And carry our thoughts.

My dream is of a magnificent river
That flows strong without stopping
Through the land full of tears and blood,
Through the remains of those lying face down,
Though the filthy and cowardly eyes
That hunt for us, everywhere,
Through the dirty dictatorship,
Through the mouths of the murdered people.
We still keep the words of freedom,
Through the decaying hands
That reach for the light of dawn
On the water, on the rice fields,
Through the ears
Stabbed by spears of threatening words,
Through the beds in the darkness
That resound with empty screams,
Through the shortcuts
Where we are hunted
In the sunset of a sorrowful century.
Through the genitals,
When sex allows you to forget
The weight of the world, and your headache is gone.
Through the motionless faces
Hung along corridors and in rooms.


The seeds of dream
Are sown in the fields of flesh,
And in the rain of tearful January,
And in the rain of bloody February,
Growing up slowly, slowly,
Following the growing ways of the hills.