With A Lantern of Hope

Drifted in by tidal waves
with hugs of attachment
on the shore of the North Sea
a poem from Burma washed up.

No sun, no moon, can be seen
on the Norwegian beach.
Wearing the robe of mist
going up the Scandinavian mountain
with a shaken, broken voice
singing a home-sick song.

Someday
I will surely arrive at some point.

Though our homeland is under darkness
it will be short-lived.

Soon in the sky
dull darkness will clear,
a brightly coloured dawn
will arrive.

A journey of ten years
as short as a snap of the fingers.

A poem
will pack treasure
enter the village gate
greet ‘hello’
a chance to hug the public.

But now . . . atop a snow-covered mountain
while hoping for the light
singing homesick songs
lighting up a lantern of hope,
to keep singing of what I miss.

— Tin Moe
(Trans. by Wai Yan Phone, Violet Cho and David Gilbert)

Poet Tin Moe was active in the Burmese democracy movement and became a member of the National League of Democracy after the August 1988 uprising. As a result of his political activities, he was held for six months without charge in 1991 before being incarcerated in the Insein prison for four years. He was not given any reading or writing materials during his imprisonment. He escaped Myanmar in 1999 and received political asylum in the United States in 2000.

[Research note: Tine Moe, Kabya paung choat-1999 (A Collection of Tin Moe’s Poems — 1999) (Blacktown, Australia: Alinga Publishing House, 2004); Sean O’Brien, “Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets – review,” Guardian (February 8, 2018)]

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The Groom of Fallen Stars

1: My friend,
You nurtured your conviction
Like your own child.

2: My friend,
You
Burned your injuries like lamp oil.

3: My friend,
You
Could lick your own wounds
And resurrect.

4: My friend,
You had to
Drape your own skin,
Sharpen your bone into a needle,
Sew your own outfit,
And look marvelous in it.

5: Go ahead, my friend.
We must stay behind
To heal the best we could
The injuries of this world
Where the stars are falling, one by one.

6: Go ahead, my friend.
We must stay behind
To shield the earth’s wounds
From the many scorching suns
With our bare hands.

7: Go ahead, my friend.
We must stay behind
To write your poetry’s table of content
On the world’s vinyl record of grief.

8: Go ahead, my friend.
On the day the peacock banners
Fly once more along the campus wall
We shall . . .

—Min Ko Naing
(Translated by Kenneth Wong)

Min Ko Naing was a leader in the student group that led the uprising and democracy movement in Myanmar (Burma) in 1988. After his arrest, he spent 15 years in prison, where he was abused and tortured. He was released from prison in November 2004, only to be re-arrested in 2006 for his pro-democracy work. He released in January 2007, but imprisoned again in November of that year. He was released as part of a presidential pardon in 2012. He wrote this poem as a tribute to Taya Min Wai (see yesterday’s poem).

Song

The demons fainted from my flowers’ fragrance
On the night she missed me.

The constellations in my heaven blushed
On the night she whispered my name.

Blocks of lead dropped into my ocean
And I lit a lighthouse in my heart
On the night I burned at both ends,
And kept it lit up all alone.

Startled villains dropped their swords
On the night she gazed into the distance.

The stones on the road were perfumed
On the night she loved me.

I shot myself with thunderbolts,
I was engulfed in ghostly flames,
On the night I burned at both ends,
And kept it lit up all alone.

— Taya Min Wai
(Trans. by Kenneth Wong)

Taya Min Wai was a member of the student group that led the uprising in Myanmar (Burma) in 1988. He spent four years in prison (1990 to 1994) for his participation in the democracy movement. He composed poems in prison by memorizing them, line by line, as he was forbidden to use pencils and paper.

By the Bonfire of Poetry

I must confess
I still miss you, Winter.

You welcomed us with scattered snow;
we were soaked in songs.

When we poured our melodies into the night,
the stars were still
powering up their generators.

We chopped up and burned
agreements that needed no signature
as logs for our little bonfire
(but we grilled no one’s meaty reward).

The darker the night,
the thinner the sweater of dignity;
shrouded in snow,
even at cockcrow we were still sober
(in my imagination, the ale was watered-down).

I’m not happy, Winter —
I stay warm in my personal flames,
nursed by the breath of own heart;
but those who want to barbecue and bite bullets
continue to feud with me.

— Min Ko Naing
(Trans. by Kenneth Wong)

Min Ko Naing was a leader in the student group that led the uprising and democracy movement in Myanmar (Burma) in 1988. After his arrest, he spent 15 years in prison, where he was abused and tortured. He was released from prison in November 2004, only to be re-arrested in 2006 for his pro-democracy work. He released in January 2007, but imprisoned again in November of that year. He was released as part of a presidential pardon in 2012.