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Vietnam House

Vietnam House
Chapter 1 : Recollection


Vietnam House is a new theme on my literary journey. It’s the first draft of the poems conceiving from a pathetic past. Since then,a desire to restore a country blessed with poetic and lyrical characters has been nourished.

Please don’t speak ill of the future
Although the past was remembered with doubts
If we keep looking where the sun sets
How can we see the wonderful glow of sunrise ?

The dawn of the future is so beautiful with open hearts. Being aware of the impermanency of life,I begin with the concept of the true,the good and the beautiful building up in my heart a bright country of love for ninety million Vietnamese now living home or in exile everywhere on the earth.

Home or away, everybody has the same house- Vietnam House- so long as everybody is of the same blood of Lạc Hồng. Let’s rise from the ruins, to help removing the rubbish, clearing the debris, healing the wounds still annoying our memory.

Having indulged in letters with the heart of a Vietnamese, I wish to write a new chapter of my poetry as a contribution to the restoration of the nation in the spirit of Fatherland- Honor- Duty.

The intention of this work is to help the youth of today understand the feelings of the predecessors as to how they built and defended the country, as well as the unbending spirit and the noble sacrifices of the ARVN soldiers and also why the people still shed tears 40 years after the end of the Vietnam war.

In my meetings and talks with the young people home and abroad, I realise a need to convey the thoughts of the former generations to the later generations in order to preserve and enhance the strong will in the struggle for an immortal Vietnam.

The generation of today includes the young people in the country, the young immigrants and their families in the new lands around the world plus a large number of students studying abroad and also foreign youngsters. They all want to learn about contemporary Vietnam history,especially about the Republic of Vietnam and her people in the war defending the South from the invasion of the Communists and their comrades.

The obstacle with the young people in studying and research of the history is the language barrier where most of them don’t comprehend the Vietnamese language printed in the books found in school libraries and in book stores.

In such a background, Vietnam House collection has been made as a gift for them with lots of belief and affection.

The Vietnamese original texts of the poems have been translated into English. Because of the limited capability of the translator,when working, he has focused in conveying the ideas of the poems instead of trying to make the versions aesthetic, thus the poetry melody is considerably lost. The author expects the young readers’ understanding and warm reception of this bilingual collection.

It’s high time the young people learn the painful history of the country so as to prepare themselve in the struggle for restoration of a beautiful and powerful Vietnam when the Vietnamese people can enjoy a peaceful life with real democracy and freedom.

Vietnam House collection consists of the two chapters:

Chapter 1 : Recollection
Chapter 2 : Hope

Thank you for reading!

Cao Nguyên


The red tears

Have you ever
the red tears

Have you ever
the red tears?

The tears mixed with the blood
from the heart
flowing through the eyes
making us hurt
throughout a hundred years

Have you ever
why the red tears?

They are an agglomeration of blood and tears
of the dead
who wanted to save our country and her people
who wanted to resist the devil powers
who wanted to save human common sense in a world of merciless hatred

You understand
why today
I am shocked
writing the lines
I don’t usually write
I want to write
about a time past
full of tears and blood
of my friends
killed by
a bullet
a poison
a hanging rope

The red tears
are flowing in me
and around me

May be I will write to help you
understand better about something
about the red tears
flowing in Black April and earlier
May be I won’t
for I am afraid I cannot stand the heartbreaks
The red tears
keep flowing in me
in my friends’ lives
in life
and death

The red tears are not condensed
in the gravels
in the freeze
in the dumbness
Yet they flow continously through the barriers
of senselessness

Suddenly I feel
like being moved to tears
beside the graves
seen from my memory
in lines
in rows
the bodies of my friends
of my relatives
who have gone
after having bled for the country
and their blood was mixed
with the storm water
very red !

My dear !
This may be my best verse
I have ever written
This may be part of an oration
I deliver for my friends
for the fathers,the uncles,the brothers..
who have fallen
for Freedom,Humanity,Human Rights
The verse of today
Remember that
It does not carry animosity
but just compassion
for those who have sacrificed their lives
for our country
and just the words of emotion
I want to send to the hearts
wherein the red tears keep flowing

Also remember that
There is no tragedy
because the heroes did not die
for a false doctrine
or a petty pity

and you should remember
the departure
very stately and definitive
of the men who possessed
genuine hearts
the red tears once flowed


The scar

The wound has been scarred over yet it hurts
The bullet once penetrated my skin now still smarting
Smoothing it with my fingers,I feel countless smashes
The war ended long time ago yet I think just yesterday

My sadness is fresh,I feel like close to sobbing
Waking up at night, the sorrows keep tormenting my poetry
Afraid that if I give up the fight, my love will be wet with tears
Being warm-blooded I cast aside any idea of the past wound

“Hey, go to sleep, the skin !”,says the scar
What’s the use of looking continously at the old enemy trace?
The butcher is shamed of himself, looking down
at his own shadow in the setting of a completely ruined field

Never mind ! With a poetic inspiration, I will fall asleep
That old scar, oh ! Just leave it with the past
As the ideas have been formed beyond the eagerness
The words of love are written in fear of misunderstanding !



I am now in Plateau Gi grassland
In my hands,some sunflowers
In my eyes,the green leaves and the blue sky
In my memory,your feet so soft white
very quiet on the grass wet with transparent dewdrops
In my life a very warm nostalgia
and a long-time expectation…

All the above is for the start of the drawing of today
I want to give it to you only
a bright soul
with lots of love that remind
of the unrest regions of the country
still coming back in your dreams
the dreams always make your heart heavy
although they are just a little of the Sea,of the River,of the Forest
of the Mountains,of the Fields, of the flower beds…
As you are too eager
to think of the place
where you were born
the place you want to embrace at the minute you depart this world
the people who were lost
from the fetus bearing a hundred ova
The traces of the time
of the events
Your body and mind sometimes intact sometimes broken
Your tears sometimes come sometimes go
still very red like our ancestors’ blood…

It’s dusking you know?
The sunsets are as sick yellow as the age of our brothers
The sunsets look like a pause
A standstill
awaiting a hand-over
between day and night
between our generation and the descendants
The standstill is the minutes to remember
the efforts of our ancestors
of myself and my friends
who manured and watered the trees for their greenness
for more fruits…

It’s high time to sing the refrain
and try to forget the hatred
so that our hearts won’t be tightly pressed
until suffocation
Our descendents want to hear
right at the beginning of the refrain
with the deepest emotion
about the blood relationship
about the honor of a brave people
who always want to hold the head up
before other peoples
to say
we are Vietnamese

The time has slipped away too quickly
since the moment I drew my first line
in a dawn, onto the canvas
inspired by your desires
I had finished my drawing before sunset
The night is falling on the grassland
It’s very tranquil everywhere
but not with me
when I applied a very brilliant tone
drawing under the starry night
the lines of our inner wishes
everybody be safe
in a happy refrain
resounding at the same time with the bell
to signal a new sunrise

I am listening
very carefully
the sound
of the time starting a new day
when my back
has been still wet with the grassland dewdrops
Looking through the darkness
looking up at the stars
I miss you
a soul very Vietnamese!


The heart of Vietnam

As a Vietnamese
I am heart-broken
Since the day I left
to start the long exile

The words for my homeland
written with an ardent love
mixed with a great sadness
will exist eternally

My fatherland- my homeland
a wonderful country
where a furious anguish
stays in every Vietnamese !


The woeful and majestic epic

Forty years- more than ten thousand nights of lying awake
Not only me,only you but everybody
those who were born four or five decades ago
were exhausted when the war was over!

When we just stoped stepping on mines and booby traps
we had to enter the new life of hunger,poverty and miseries
As it was just a national calamity,why any repentance?
We only did not want to die of a stun !

Stabbed in the back by friends,from the front by the enemy
the wounds have left aches and pains incessantly
How could I sleep when my heart was wide awake?
How could I enjoy myself when tears welled up?

Leaving the country- running through the jungles or crossing the sea
We took with us the spirit of our sacred Father-land
and a deep gratitude to those who stayed an ocean apart
So we just dream of coming home to sit by the warm cooking fires

My nostalgia is always interminable
making my chest hurt,my wound ache innerly
I still could hear the fearful screams at that time
Hey, buddies ! You used to be my own flesh and blood!

All has been broken under the legendary heaven
Vietnam ! Vietnam ! Oh,our dear fatherland !
I feel like being struck dumb when reaching out
touching nothing just the blood of Lạc Hồng!

You ask me,I ask you, we are both confused
Which way is humanity and peace?
I left hurriedly half a century ago
arriving at the promising land; my belief declined

Millions of people died because of the deceiving words
Millions of people were doleful by the doubts
Let’s implore the world for no more lies
about our enthusiasm in every departure

If we were killed by an exposed enemy
we would smile as we sacrificed for our country
If we were killed by a hidden one
our pain would be left in the last words!

The Vietnam syndrom is still on the brain
The descendents will write an epic, following their ancestors
In anguish, miseries, with ardent love
they rewrite the history answering the call of the country!


A sketch of peace

You came back yesterday from the ground
Your body was obviously stained with dust
Your soul hurt, ready to go to heaven
Since you left the battle field,leaving this world

On the stone the rain cut in the word of tragedy
now faded on the green grass after the passing years
I wonder how old you were then
Probably a teenager who just learned love the first time

Yet you have gone too far away
without leaving a notice telling where to
A star has faded out in the sky
Only the tears of suffering flowing for life

You returned sitting in solitude
Enjoying the moonlight as if it were the old days’ wine
So many shining flares was not enough
We still lay awake to lighten our faith

(that we set off to draw a sketch of peace
right in the war to enhance humanity!)
The green forest was set on fire suddenly
The earth trembled in the tornado,the smoke blurred your image!

For years one keeps looking forward to
finding the drawing of peace of your own
The wounds of the war have been never healed
Only more bullets perforating the heart mercilessly!


Vietnam in my dream

Vietnam ! Oh, Mother Vietnam !
Did you still have the breast milk to feed me?
Last night I dearmed of the red rivers and mountains
Dad was bent carrying the green paddy grains from the field

The afternoon sun was shining over the thatched roof
The rice showed off its white grains,welcoming brothers and sisters
The barcarole was resounded along the dike
Buckets were used to catch water from a mountain brook

I used my hands holding the reed wood
Leaning against a stone stele, I waited for dispatch of the troops
Suddenly the land was put to fire and sword
Trường Sơn was burned up, smoke got into the study room

Waking up with a start,I knew it was a dream
Where is my Vietnam? Oh, Mom,I am grieved
My verses are soundless, like the cry held back
Until tomorrow when forests and mountains can sing!


The holy graves
( In memory of Hoang Sa sea battle 1974- 2014)

For forty years the sun’s shown over the holy graves
lighting up the hearts of the soldiers
who had sacrificed their lives for our Father-land
fighting to defend the sea and the islands of Vietnam

Eternally the holy graves resounded with the call
of the country urging for defending the islands
so that the people of Lac Hong can forever live
in glory since the days of the making of Van Lang

In memory of Hoàng Sa- we remember Ngụy Văn Thà
and his comrades who wrote a historical song of the war
Their heroic strong will has brought the immortal fame
to the people going to defend the country’s border areas

Their graves have been built in everybody’s memory
to become permanent in the people’s literature
where the spring sun always shines over the yellow flag
of our fatherland calling for a rally of solidarity !


As the sun also rises in the East…

When you cry, Mom has no more breast milk
She can only feed you with some vegetable soup
feeling worried it may have been contaminated
by some chemicals with which you will grow

It’s a pity you were born in a hard time
when Mom has to toil away for a living day and night
How can you go to school when grown up ?
Your torn shorts have not yet been mended

Don’t cry, just lie still and listen to her singing
The sad ballads from Dad’s six-eight syllable verses
He has spent his lifetime dreaming of
a green homeland with beautiful love songs

You will grow up with the truthful melodies
of the folk verses sometimes stopped unexpectedly
The birds have left their twitters on the earth
flying away searching for a new heaven

One day Mom will die paying off her life’s debts
The pity is that your dreams have been cut off
Even so,just sleep and don’t be anxious
As the sun also rises in the East forever!


My love for Huế

A deep gratitude is always awakened with me
Listening to the bell of Thiên Mụ from an ocean part
Staring at the ancient Royal Palace
I catch myself thinking of the war-horses’ whinny at full gallop

The moutains,the rivers,the land,the dukedom
Is it possible everything will fade with the passing years?
The court rooms,the citadels have fallen into ruin
Only the cold is felt while the rosary is being said

Mom is sad looking at the far horizon
hoping to see the children back to listen to the old lullaby
The ancient capital of Huế is in the rain,soaking wet
Pedestrians walk slowly in quiet streets when it’s stormy

On the wharf of Vân Lâu, I suddenly feels a meloncholy
Listening to the music that reminds me of an old friend
My gratitude is deep as the song of great affection
The boat is rowed along Vĩ Dạ on small waves in tranquility !



On the roads of real life
going through different plights
has made me awake
and inspired poetry in me

Each grief or dispute
makes me laugh or cry
Each life hard or ruined
makes me feel a pain

I can’t turn my back
on the real sufferings
when mom sells her blood
on a busy afternoon

You asked me not to sigh
for tomorrow,a better life
Yet I still feel bad
to see the bone-dry eyes

Now,I do understand
No smiles on the numb lips
for the passionate words
are no longer heard

Isn’t it true I have learned
many lessons of impermanency
like a very sharp pointed knife
used to kill our thirst for love ?

Do you know a bird
of which a friend is dead
will hang itself,lamenting
until its mouth bleeds

I want to face up life
as you greet Vietnam
the earth is wonderful
although we suffer hardships

Perhaps it will,one night
All men stand in a line
waiting to have remorse
for the world miseries

Then an eden opens
with the flowers very humane
and all the hearts are fervid
to make the world brilliant!


Hey, dear forest !

As an old inhabitant from afar
I keep calling,how much I miss you,forest!
I pitied for the fallen trees in summer
and the leaves in mourning for years

When I left,you-the deep forest- was on fire
The fire of hatred which burned half my life
You keeps burning,how can the wounds be healed?
Sharing the pain,my heart bleeds for you!

Can the forest be revived with half my blood
Will the ground be fertile for the buds to grow again
Will the trees be green for the birds to come back
Will the flowers be in bloom for the scent to pervade the air?

Alas ! How much I long to see you,forest !
The green highland, the flowers,the leaves-my heart
And also the blood I have shedded for you those days
All urges me to come back even I can’t tell when

I’ll come back to see the flowers open under the sun
to examine the wounds on the trees
to sit in rain or shine listening to the song of the ground
a children’s song of the old good days!

It’s my poetry, hey, forest ! Let me sing it
When I cannot depart for homeland this afternoon
I am afraid the trees are still wet with tears
Then you and I will have a good cry,arm in arm!


Anniversary of your death

Thirty years have passed
I am still sobbing
when I burn incense
trying to hold my tears back

Every year in April
I remember the loss
the love and happiness
you hurriedly carried away

In the frightening screams
You and I was torn up
Your body was smashed
My hopeful days were closed

On the anniversary of your death
I remember our father’s village
Still with the words of sincerity
As how much I love you

Every year on this date
Your two children are present
Burning the incense of respect
they feel heart broken

Mother,children embrace one another
Looking at your photo,crying
Thirty years of sufferings
Their life has been hard

Rest in peace,brother!
I continue my life with courage
For the happiness of the children
again I nourish a hope

That the children grow up
talking always about you
who is now in the clouds
with a soul forever at rest!



Just presume I have nothing
No fame,no fortune, exactly nothing
Even the DOB and POB on the papers
are forgotten when I depart this world !

Yet it’s a pity,depart for…where?
As I have neither a house nor a homeland
All I can remember is the field of my childhood
Where there were the poor furrows and the early rice

My pain is like a sharpened thick bamboo
My sorrow is like a bad bullet wound
On the overturned ground,the wound was oozing blood
The people went crazy fleeing their fields and gardens

I have abandoned myself since then
That’ why now I can only see nothing
Don’t know who in this world think alike
Let’s make friends, to while away the time


Until tomorrow

Today I went downtown
looking for a close friend
I was excited but rather dazed
walking on the crowded pavements

it was hard to find the right road
at night the streets were dark
I knew I found the right place
I shouted his name but no answer

I couldn’t but leave a message
(That I did come here
as a friend of the olden times
once bare foot working on the furrows!)


Don’t know if you remember
The time we were in jail
We often reminded ourselves
Not to forget those days

The days our skinny bodies
were held in the thin arms
we huddled together for warmth
Our clothes were shredded!

The days the hot,dry western wind
blew hard through the forests of Lao Cai
The prisoners sat facing one another
singing the song Until tomorrow !

* *
Then tomorrow did come
Carrying the gloomy luggage
We got to the open sea
going to a mistily distant land

Now within the time left
Where can I find you
on these noisy streets
in the whirligig of life ?

Anyhow we have lived
in humiliation and misery
We still didn’t collapse
Now why going away?

Until tomorrow,yes,tomorrow
No matter where we shall go
Just don’t forget the fire
in our hearts a dark night

Whenever you are free
and happen to remember me
just drop round some day
my house is next to a jungle

We will warm up the old wine
and drink the honey of homeland
in the mist of a faraway country
to know we are still in being !


(To my buddies of Class 22 Infantry School especially PK,ĐN,HA…with love )

Never say the earth is too big
So long as we still live,we shall meet
Each word of hope said
will help shorten the deep nights !

Forty years ago,our space was a fire
and the time was a narrow margin of life and death
Therefore we never could make a promise
For no one knew if he would die the next minute!

After forty years; again we meet
Slapping my back, a friend says: ‘young heart,old body!”
If we had not gone to jail or been ill-treated
We would have been as handsome as lads !

We better forget the past; It can’t be helped
Let’s clink glasses and drink each other’s health
Through hardships,we still held ourselves upright
Having fulfilled obligations,old buddies still love us

How much we love the day on the maneuvre yard
Everybody said “…again” but not certain when
How could one know the matter of life and death
We only hoped we would remember one another

Having remembered what we gained;we don’t forget what we lost
Among us, many boys have gone different ways
One has rested in peace in the jungle of Tân Cảnh
Another have left his body in the valley of A Shao

One gave up his fight in the camp of Yên Bái
Another drowned himself at the bottom of the deep sea
And the rest who are somewhere on the earth
at this time,are feeling the wounds of themselves!


The wine is sweet,why adding the bitter tears?
That choked the words we say to one another
It’s my fault-being puzzled by the bittersweet memories
I beg your pardon,drinking up my bitterness-the grief’s gone!


Born on 30th April

You were born on 30th April
On that very day Dad went to prison
When he’s off,Mom held back her sigh
for fear that her sob might tire you

Dad walked away,quietly and anxiously
when Mom had not enough breast milk for you
The rice was green on the field once covered with blood
Was that wife still looking for her hubby at midnight?

Mom tried to bring you up in great hardships
Bent with overloaded bamboo yoke beside her own sorrows
She still slaved away all day,at making a living
At night she lay awake singing you to sleep

You were over one year old when Dad was released
He was so glad you have grown as Mom’s lullaby
that taught you to hold your head up as an upright man
to overcome hardships and remain cheerful in adversity

Now you are thirty-one already
Sitting there to remember the words of Mom’s cradlesongs
and the words of Dad’s advice sent you from the jail
you set them to music, an elegy for future generations


The errant man

Just call me the errant man
Who wanders aimlessly all his life
When a youth,I lived the wartime
Only sorrows and no joys-no cry but laughter instead

My house was above bunkers,below foxholes
I have seen people scramble for benefits in prisoners’ camps
Sometimes I saw many bodies lying about in disorder
Feeling myself, I smelt the alcohol from my breath

After tiring journeys,I got safe to a foreign land
I saw the world rocking back and forth in a dead drunk
Just my luck when I met an old buddy
We sang for each other some songs of the exiles

I have been several times being empty-headed
having heard something like the wardrum from Thăng Long
Listening to it caferfully, I knew it was just the Rap music
that noisily cut in while I was in meditation on the hard life

One day when I was driving slowly on a high way
Looking both sides for a small roadside shop
I thought I was about to pass Bình Triệu bridge
When making a turn I happened to see a Richmond sign

Sometimes being carried away by the old stories
I found I have mixed up a funny story with another sad one
When sitting in a car,I even crave for walking
When eating a fried chicken,I suddenly think of the field crabs

What a man! - The errant man !
Having no house; yet my homeland is too far
Wandering a lot,I collect every word to write poetry
to be out in the West, telling the stories of the East!


March drunk

In March I left the jungles
(to get back to the sea?)
No- I was just going
because of the war devastation

Because of the flame of a feud
that burned hallowed Trường Sơn
breaking up the highland gongs
Oh dear, my God ! My God!

Thirty-eight years passed
I was trembling in drunkenness
When I sensed my buddy’s spirit
on the mountain roads of my retreat

Alas ! The windy height of Chư Pao
The canteen was full of rice alcohol
poured right at the bottom of the trench
We just drank then felt solitary!

Alas ! Đức Cơ, Pleime
The dried rice and canned meat
The highland wine mixed with water from a brook
We drank until hung-over then dropped!

Alas ! Thuận Mẫn, Buôn Hồ
The dried tamarinds and guavas
mixed with the gunsmoke at Bù Đăng
We just drank then lay awake!

Waiting for the next March
to follow the spirits of my buddies
looking for others’ wandering souls
to wave good-bye to them!

Drink with me,as much as you like,will you?
Oh, the hearts of the rivers and brooks
of the mountains and forests of Central HighLand
in the sleepless nights I was calling:

Hey, my buddies and my forests !


The season of warriors’ wives

The heavy frost fell in the old town
The dim mountains were covered all day by the clouds
I came back to the place I once lived
You has gone too far like a flying bittern!

Suddenly I remembered the season of warriors’ wives
When the pine hills were whitened by mourning bands
The two rows of burning candles were not enough
to light up the people walking on the deserted ruins


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