I Will Visit Your Home

I will visit your home and say
To your wife and children that you are hungry all year
round
That you have grown old, with most of your teeth gone,
but that you are very industrious
Working day and night to get your puny share of corn!
That you eat rice that is almost as hard as rock, out of
a stone bowl!
You try to swallow it but then, excrete the whole thing
almost as is
Your wife & children, nephews, nieces & grandchildren
Would be ecstatic learning
That you have progressed way beyond your past
Living under this regime, our Democratic Republic!

— Nguyen Chi Thien (1968)
(Trans. by Nguyen Ngoc Bich)

Headstone marking the resting place for the poet Nguyen Chi Thien at the Christ Cathedral in Orange County, California.Image: Codobai / CC BY-SA 3.0

Headstone marking the resting place for the poet Nguyen Chi Thien at the Christ Cathedral in Orange County, California.
Image: Codobai / CC BY-SA 3.0

Nguyen Chi Thien spent a total of 27 years in Vietnamese prisons and labor camps for opposing the Communist government. I Will Visit Your Home comes from Flowers of Hell, a collection of poems smuggled out of Vietnam via the British Embassy in 1979. Nguyen Chi Thien spent 12 more years in prison for this act of sedition.

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The Sun is Up

The Sun is up, and summer is here
And a terminalia tree stands in the middle of the courtyard
The prisoners bring out their blankets and clothes
To dry them on the high wires strung all over the yard
Their clothes and beddings are of course not new
For the most part they are in tatters and faded colors
But these people, in their condition
Tenderly caress them, thinking of tomorrow
Suddenly I feel an indescribable feeling
As I think of the days and months that go by
For all these things that are drying in the sun
Only mean a sad winter is coming in my case.

— Nguyen Chi Thien (1961)
(Trans. by Nguyen Ngoc Bich)

Nguyen Chi Thien spent a total of 27 years in Vietnamese prisons and labor camps for opposing the Communist government. The Sun is Up comes from Flowers of Hell, a collection of poems smuggled out of Vietnam via the British Embassy in 1979. Nguyen Chi Thien spent 12 more years in prison for this act of sedition.