acquaintance

we made acquaintance
in this remembering, and forgetting,
and unforgiving
of the unjust treatment of the heart,
its irregular beats, to a rhythm that did not exist
until you walked into my life – i took you in
but you got afraid –
of our mutual vulnerability, so you ran –
and for what? an ounce of safety? (or, the illusion of),
or the mistaken belief that us splitting apart
would bring forth the peace which we once searched
in one another?
what do you hear
in the concave footsteps you had left,
taking that terrible moment of tenderness
away from me, away from us,
away from when you needed me most?

The Right Side of Humanity

We are of striking similarities
underneath all the differences
in how we look, of remarkable uniqueness
across these things we share in common.

The language you use to access your emotions
speaks to the way I, too, have felt
where we’ve witnessed the beautiful, the unspeakable, the terrible, the sublime,
the realities of others popped up against ours,
and the truth we know to exist, the fundamental truth
of who we are, as a species on Earth, cohabiting, co-creating, co-observing
among others,
yet destroying – all by ourselves –
the very things that make us human
that make this world your world, my world,
a place where we only stay for a time
when we have a lease on life,
from which we will leave with nothing,
not even fame, which only lasts
for as long as history lasts.

And who writes history but the immortal,
those who aren’t always willing to let go,
as the current of time inevitably progresses?

We are all immigrants
from one life to another.
We cannot be banned from time,
from the nature of life, and death.
Nor can anyone resist
the natural order of things
always looking to restore themselves toward balance.

Power, possessions, privilege
are only means to and by-products of anything that is ever worth it.
If you have forgotten that, don’t you remember
the love you might have for your own family,
and friends, and whomever you choose to love,
the happiness you wish upon their hearts and faces,
and the pure joy of a beautiful child
who just learned how to crawl this earth
for the very first time?

We want that too.
We want our families and friends to unite
We want to discover the grand beauty of this world and life
We want to communicate and understand and connect and love our brothers and sisters
regardless of, and given, the many ways we write our words, shape our cultures, embrace our gods,
because the human race is one
and this planet is one
and the universe is one
in our inextricable connectedness, our diversity,
and our desires for life, liberty,
and the pursuit of utmost happiness.

Live with love.
Think with love.
Lead with love.
There is always a path away from hate,
anger, or fear.
It is never too late
to be on the right side of humanity.

I Have Dreamed of You So Much (Robert Desnos)

I Have Dreamed of You So Much
(by Robert Desnos)

I have dreamed of you so much that you are no longer real.
Is there still time for me to reach your breathing body, to kiss your mouth and make your dear voice come alive again?
I have dreamed of you so much that my arms, grown used to being crossed on my chest as I hugged your shadow, would perhaps not bend to the shape of your body.
For faced with the real form of what has haunted me and governed me for so many days and years, I would surely become a shadow.
O scales of feeling.
I have dreamed of you so much that surely there is no more time for me to wake up.
I sleep on my feet prey to all the forms of life and love, and you, the only one who counts for me today,
I can no more touch your face and lips than touch the lips and face of some passerby.
I have dreamed of you so much, have walked so much, talked so much, slept so much with your phantom,
that perhaps the only thing left for me is to become a phantom among phantoms,
a shadow a hundred times more shadow than the shadow that moves
and goes on moving, brightly, over the sundial of your life.

____________________________________

J’ai tant rêvé de toi
(Robert Desnos)

J’ai tant rêvé de toi que tu perds ta réalité.
Est-il encore temps d’atteindre ce corps vivant
Et de baiser sur cette bouche la naissance
De la voix qui m’est chère?
J’ai tant rêvé de toi que mes bras habitués
En étreignant ton ombre
A se croiser sur ma poitrine ne se plieraient pas
Au contour de ton corps, peut-être.
Et que, devant l’apparence réelle de ce qui me hante
Et me gouverne depuis des jours et des années,
Je deviendrais une ombre sans doute.
O balances sentimentales.
J’ai tant rêvé de toi qu’il n’est plus temps
Sans doute que je m’éveille.
Je dors debout, le corps exposé
A toutes les apparences de la vie
Et de l’amour et toi, la seule
qui compte aujourd’hui pour moi,
Je pourrais moins toucher ton front
Et tes lèvres que les premières lèvres
et le premier front venu.
J’ai tant rêvé de toi, tant marché, parlé,
Couché avec ton fantôme
Qu’il ne me reste plus peut-être,
Et pourtant, qu’a être fantôme
Parmi les fantômes et plus ombre
Cent fois que l’ombre qui se promène
Et se promènera allègrement
Sur le cadran solaire de ta vie.

Source

Westward

I keep thinking about the road,
the way it led to that open sky.

We could have been anywhere,
but it could only have been California
where we were so small, surrounded
by the mountain ranges of Malibu
until we reached the Pacific Ocean.
At Point Dume, I thought, if I kept swimming westward
I would eventually reach home.

We could have been anywhere,
but it could only have been California
where stucco homes colors of late morning sun and lanky palm trees and the purple blue jacarandas blooming
took us through every day into evening.
We could have waited for the sunset
but it came and left so quickly
just like we did.

There is no time like LA time,
when the water flows into the sky.
We walked along the waves
washing our steps into the fine sand,
the winds gliding down our backs,
and the world before us opening, blossoming
into a moment.

I could close my eyes and smell that metallic saltwater of Santa Monica –
so much sun, so much life,
so much California
so much you.
Ask anyone and they would say
the kind of memories you make in LA
would always carry that sight of the trees and the lights shining through the leaves
and the scent of the sea
and the way it curves around the mountains.

graduation

them college days
so far away
as if time did no time in memories
leaving behind only yesterdays

you are young, oh, you are young;
the world is in your hands;
you are fierce.
you live as if
you will be back yet again.

what do i tell you but smiles
and wishes upon you the soaring high
of spirit, of passion, of desire,
for we all are only here, like this, once.

every what-if belongs to a time
you have not yet known. i love you,
i wish to see you grow
among your people
where you can be children
and you can become adults.

each of life’s graduations
is but a reminder that you are still riding the current –
sometimes along it, sometimes against it,
and you will fall and you will get up.
and your hearts will survive
being broken a million times.
you’ll feel like it’s all over a million times,
you’ll feel like you’ve found what you’re meant to find a million times.
and one day it will all fall into place –
the puzzle you have been solving
without knowing it even exists.
you’ll look back to this day
and nothing in the world can replace
the smiles and tears under every cap
the way the wind caressing your gowns
as you say goodbye to the moments you will never forget.

so smile, graduates, and remember how you feel today,
because you’ve lived a kind of love that only exists
because everyone else has also been in it,
whether or not you have truly known one another.
the feeling palpitating within your chests
as you walk in lines, as your names are called, as you listen to the last speech, as you throw your caps up in the air –
feel it everywhere, let it stay with you forever,
because one day,
you’ll be where i am now,
and wish nothing else but to be able to be around
my graduating class
all together again at last
before yet another start
of another life.

It used to be easier

It used to be easier
to live with the worries that hung over our head,
the dreams that haunted us to sleep,
the troubles that we brought upon ourselves via others’,
the indecisiveness that somehow made things better.

It used to be easier
to live in the moment with its optimistic view of future
the comfort of not having to grow up
(in the cursed sense of the phrase),
the hours that hastily simmered
into the corner of an eye above a beautiful smile.

It used to be easier
to talk about love without love,
to feel too much love to talk,
to look for things that were not meant to be found,
to forget things that we would one day regret not having remembered.

It used to be easier
to feel alive, for a single moment of livelihood
was enough to expand across time,
keeping us busy, pushing blood through the veins.
Whatever happened, we knew what we had,
and were happy with only so little.

It used to be easier
to be someone else,
always asking, “Who am I?”
in a curious manner – or, rather, careless,
because there was no I yet
for the question to take itself seriously.

Now is not harder than before.
Only that we will always be longing for
the unknown of a known past,
and the trajectory of a past unknown.

mentalities

in between the two mentalities,
I wondered how to let go,
and I would fall right onto the abyss below.

nobody has ever told me why this could happen:
being happy and being upset about the things
that have not occurred.
maybe this is how I have to walk,
right in between, looking
into my heart, where it remained
intact, like a dream no one has had
during the seamless nights.

I cannot remember how you looked like,
how your lips almost touched mine, how
we could not let ourselves trapped.

why did I let us walk away from each other?
one day, you stood at the other realm of my mind,
and I was here,
never again feeling that I could
love you the way I did
one more time.

In Spite (Nizar Qabbani)

In Spite

1961
by Nizar Qabbani 

 

In spite of all our conflicts
and all our resolutions
that we can’t make it work,
in spite of the animosity,
the obstinacy
and inhibitions,
in spite of the absence of our smiles
and the lack of communication,
there must be a mystery
that unifies our destinies –
brings our footsteps closer
and blends you into me,
melting your warm hands with mine.
*
In spite of all our differences,
our unmatched temperaments,
the dark days of detachment
and the retrieval of all the gifts and photographs –
in spite of the dreariness,
I still believe
that destiny insists
on our togetherness
and rejects
all our arguments
*
In spite of the autumn of our relationship
and the bleeding going deep inside us,
in spite of our persistence
to put an end to our drama
at any cost,
in spite of our determination
that I won’t
and you won’t –
I doubt that we can.
In spite of all these conflicts,
we are helpless
in the face of our fate.

How alike we are
in our spirits,
in our thoughts,
and even in our books and colours.
Isn’t all of this
profound evidence
that we are friends of the same destiny,
traveling the same road
despite all our insanities?

 

Bibliography

Qabbānī, Nizār, Nayef Al-Kalali, and Lisa Kavchak. “In Spite.” Republic of Love: Selected Poems in English and Arabic. London: Kegan Paul International, 2003. 40-45. Print.

City Love

In those days, at every corner of the city
you could find a coffee shop.

There was never a high-rise building,
everything stood together in an unorganized manner,
for they never mastered the art of urban landscaping.

Street vendors had their own way of singing
their promotion songs. You remembered the tune, the words,
which reminded you of those streets.

The sounds of vehicles and their horns and the winds
never stopped. But in those days, they used to be
purer. Clearer. More innocent, perhaps. Less troubled.

Life never stops being tough,
but it was quite beautiful,
then.

When I grew up
the city was still left with fragments of history.
I had no memory of what had happened before I was born,
yet you felt in the air the gentle sadness, and the subtle beauty
from those French buildings. The architecture
slowly faded away as icons from the war,
becoming part of our modern life.
We had to move on,
and so did everyone who had left.

Those buildings, instead, became icons of my childhood,
of what I remembered about the city.
From my elementary school,
you could see the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica to your left,
the Central Post Office right in front of you.
I was always taken home via the street former known as
the Rue Catinat.

I would never forget the way it felt every afternoon.
I’m going home.

Those places have changed, and so have people,
and so have I.
The day they demolished Givral Cafe,
Xuan Thu Bookstore, Passage Eden,
the whole street block of memories,
was the day many of us lost something so deep in our heart.
History was gone once again.
And soon enough,
we would allow ourselves to forget once again.

I keep reminding myself,
Hey, it’s ok to change.
My city does not repond to me.
It just becomes so foreign,
as if it has always belonged to somebody else
but me. And I keep digging
into the dust, the traces, the pictures
to find solace in what I could remember
about my changed lover.

They say, in the end it does not matter,
modern society needs revolutions.
Evolutions. Higher skyscrapers. Highways.
A North-South express railway even (Idea rejected.)
We need to catch up with the rest of the world.

Oh, dear men, I am fine with that. I am an easy fellow
who seldom feels too strongly about anything in particular.
But my heart keeps aching from some changes you guys make.
It outraged the day you took down my corner of memories.
I was in Boston reading the news my friends sent me,
picturing myself sitting at those steps in front of the Opera House
looking at the mass of broken bricks and dust
that was once a nice, little, iconic coffee shop-
Givral.

When my friend talked to me about changes around that block,
she talked in a tone that almost seemed guilty.
She did not know how to break the news to me
without also breaking me apart.
For just a few months before that,
we were walking down Dong Khoi Street (the Rue Catinat, if you may),
taking pictures of the Opera House,
Givral Café, the Continental Hotel,
joking of how we acted like tourists.

Try being a tourist in your own city.
It means seeing everything with a fresh set of eyes,
trying to record everything,
trying to grasp the essence of everything
within a short amount of time.
I guarantee you it is fun.
And it will reinvigorate your love,
your understanding, your hope.

I was disappointed with some decisions others made.
Yet, being a city girl,
I was raised to adapt to them.
To learn that there will be thousands of other coffee shops
bookstores
landmarks
so many choices to overwhelm me
to drive me away from the time
when I had so few.

Will it eventually work? I do not know.
But that corner of the street (now demolished),
that corner of memory (now fading),
I was there.
Yes, I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

I will definitely make further edits to this, but I’d like your inputs on the word flow, grammar, construction/order of ideas, etc.

I haven’t been away from my city for long, but the changes have been quite drastic recently. The coffee shop mentioned, Givral Café, was built in 1950 during our French colonization period. Ever since it has been a legendary place where many international journalists and writers and others meet. It was taken down on April 2010.

I was born years after the Vietnam War was over, so my memories are not really associated with anything war-related. My childhood was spent around the city center with French architecture around (the Cathedral and the Post Office are still there; the Opera House was renovated, but the whole street block of Givral and Passage Eden I mentioned is now gone.)

There is not much and there is too much to say about that city. I often find it either too difficult or too easy to write about it. You probably feel the same way about something or someone you’re in love with. All the words could be dedicated, yet none would be satisfying enough.

written 04 August 2010