Strumming the strings of exile

A poem in Vietnamese by Phan Nhiên Hạo
Translator: Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm
Art: Đinh Trường Chinh

The guitar player tightened the strings

periodically in exile,

in Cửu Long alluvial 

and American Midwest meadows.

Where he lives the sky is full of clouds, cattle to the slaughter.

He glorifies love, the scent of a path far away from the equatorial rain. 

Verbally he longed for his home, snow storms,

empty parking lots.

His past is like a singer in a folk dance troupe

a blind act. His present is like a hot air balloon,

flying, waiting for the moment it will fall.

His future is a television box

in a nursing home, with no signal.

He has nothing but jazz, 

in a world hard of hearing.

Hence, he’s overcome by the futility of it all

like when the power was cut and he was crammed in a room

on Nguyễn Tri Phương boulevard, naked, 


Saigon in the eighties.

May 2022


Người chơi đàn lưu vong

Người chơi đàn này căng dây

giữa những múi giờ lưu vong,

giữa phù sa Cửu Long và cánh đồng Trung Tây

nước Mỹ.

Bầu trời nơi y ở nhiều mây, đàn bò sắp vào lò mổ.

Y ca ngợi tình yêu, mùi con đường sau cơn mưa

nhiệt đới. Y nói về tha hương, bão tuyết,

bãi đậu xe vắng người.

Quá khứ của y như người hát xẩm

giả mù. Hiện tại của y như khinh khí cầu,

bay, và đợi giờ rơi xuống.

Tương lai của y là một Tivi

trong nhà dưỡng lão, mất sóng.

Y không có gì ngoài jazz,

trong một thế giới nặng tai.

Điều này khiến y cảm thấy vô tích sự

như tối Chủ Nhật cúp điện nằm trong phòng chật

đường Nguyễn Tri Phương, trần truồng,

và quạt,

Sài Gòn những năm 80.


Phan Nhiên Hạo, the poet and translator born 1967 in Kontum, Vietnam, currently works and lives in Illinois, the United States of America.

Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm, the blogger, poet, and translator, was born in 1971 in Phu Nhuan, Saigon, Vietnam. The pharmacist currently lives and works in Western Sydney, Australia.

By Nguyễn Thị Phương Trâm

There's magic in translating a body of work from one language to another.


  1. Thank you my friend for bringing this beautiful piece to us in English. I really enjoy this artist too. The poetry is a window into various lives and such unusual metaphors. Just truly beautiful writing. The nursing home piece really is said yet is often a reality in the US anyway. Trâm thank you, blessings and hugs, Joni

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s how the human race process their pain yeah, through music, the arts, literature. It is integral in our survival, it fortifies our grit and endurance. We’re going to be okay, we’ve got this, so what if we can’t speak their language, we look different, we are aliens anywhere we find ourselves, but music is a universal language that comes from our heart… something like that? :)))

      Liked by 1 person

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