Journal » Trout 13 » Sống để đếm / Live To Count [Linh Dinh]
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Sống để đếm / Live to Count

Linh Dinh

Vietnamese English  

Người Piraha ở Brazil chỉ biết đếm tới 2.
Những số lớn hơn 2–3 hay 1 tỉ – họ chỉ nói là nhiều.
Nhà tôi nhiều ma, cha tôi nhiều vợ, nước tôi nhiều Kiều.

Người Mỹ rất thích đếm, và đếm rất chính xác. Có lẽ
Vì vậy mà họ có nhiều của cải và uống rất nhiều thuốc
Chấn an tâm thần.

Tôi thì thích đếm xác chết.

Mỗi khi thấy xác chết, miệng tôi lẩm bẩm 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. Khi không thấy
Người chết, tôi đếm người sống như người chết.

Tôi luôn chờ cơ hội để được đếm người chết.
Có lẽ tôi chỉ sống trên cuộc đời này
Để được đếm người chết.

Gặp ai, tôi cũng hỏi thử, Bạn chết chưa?
Gặp ông già 89 tuổi, tôi dò, Cụ chết chưa?
Gặp người thân, tôi chất vấn, Cha, mẹ, bác, chú,
Cô, cậu, dì, cháu, chắt đã chết chưa?

Thấy con nít mới đẻ 2, 3 phút, tôi nhìn thẳng
Vào cặp mắt người mẹ, Con bà đã chết chưa?

Mỗi khi nghe, Chưa chết, tôi vô cùng thất vọng,
Thậm chí hoang mang. Chắc không? Tại sao
Bạn chưa chết? Tại sao bạn không chết đi?

The Piraha people of Brazil can count only to 2.
Any number greater than 2–3 or a billion –
They only indicate as many.

Americans, on the other hand, love to count,
And can do it very accurately. Perhaps that's why
They have so many things and can ingest so many

I, on the other hand, love to count corpses.

Whenever I see corpses, I always mumble 1, 2, 3, 4
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15. When I don't see
Corpses, I count living people as corpses.

I'm always waiting for an opportunity to count corpses
Perhaps I'm only here on this earth to count corpses.

When I meet someone, I always ask, Are you dead yet?
Seeing an 89-year-old man, I'd say, Are you dead yet?
Seeing a relative, father, mother, aunt, uncle, cousin,
Child or grandchild, I'd interrogate, Are you dead yet?

Seeing an infant just born 2 or 3 minutes ago, IÕd stare
Straight into its motherÕs eyes, Is your child dead yet?

Whenever I hear, Not yet, I'm always devastated,
Even bewildered. Are you sure? Why aren't you
Dead yet? Why won't you die already?

Author's Note

I was born in Vietnam in 1963, came to the US at 11-years-old, returned to Vietnam to live for 2 ½ years at 35-years-old. I have also lived in Italy for 2 years. I have translated Vietnamese prose and poetry into English, American poetry into Vietnamese, and Italian poetry into Vietnamese and English.

In 2003, I was interviewed by the Berlin-based Vietnamese novelist Pham Thi Hoai. I was living in Certaldo, Italy then. She asked me: "Before I met you in Saigon three years ago, I was certain you weren't fluent in Vietnamese. It turned out I was completely wrong. And yet you almost never write directly in Vietnamese, although you do translate your poetry from English into Vietnamese. Why?"

I answered her: "It's because I'm most comfortable with English. When I'm inspired, I'm inspired in English. I feel inspired inside English. Furthermore, English is still a big challenge to me. It's precisely because it is not my language that I must use it."

Since that interview, however, I've published maybe a 100 poems written directly in Vietnamese. Many of these also have English versions. I don't really keep tracks of which poems were written originally in Vietnamese, and which in English. Recently I have also translated some of my own poems into Italian and published them on <>. It's hilarious, yes, but no more hilarious than me—or you, for that matter—speaking and writing in English. Standing to the side of language, I speak while observing myself speaking. To me, language is not a natural extension of the body but a stick I hold in the dark, an alien tool I must relearn continually how to use.

Above is a poem I wrote this morning in Vietnamese, then translated into English. Those who can read Vietnamese will see small discrepancies between the two versions. I only take liberties when I translate myself, never when I'm translating other people.


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© Copyright 2006 Linh Dinh & Trout.