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fluid There is a kind of magic akin to alchemy that takes place when form and content meld perfectly, as with the fluidity of Nhã Thuyên’s prose poem, here beautifully rendered by Kaitlin Rees. The contours of this wild yet precisely-controlled stream of words are a breathtaking study in motion and stillness. Read it out loud for the full effect.

 

 

 

 

which? ?orientation? ?with? ?sea
by Nhã Thuyên
translated by Kaitlin Rees

 

she gives me a sense of place to go back to, your voice from last night flickering at the edge of my ear as two strangers together are finding their way to the sea, as if just she and no one else would lead the way, though whoever she is i don’t know, a vague pronoun, a distant presence, a gentle reminder, she’s never yet here, and more, is not here now, just she alone no one else knowing the way, google maps’ three hour walk from the hotel just a cheap trick is all, don’t worry, we’ll get to sea before dawnbreak in time to admire the sun, since the sky was still its velvety grey, stone paths still with untouched dew while half-closed horse’s eyes dream the wooden clomping of colonial hooves, while three-wheeled motos cast their gaze on a soundless bell tower, while death quiet windows hold traces of the ancient castle and sleepless morning stars, while gravestones pale the moon, my strange blind hand opens ready and is clasped in someone’s grip, as if that stranger were locating me in a possible place, a possible relation between me and sea, a possibility of sea, will be the sea before dawn breaks, will sun, the reasoning of eager steps, the breath of sea is rousing, the sea must be somewhere here, behind this slope, beneath that hill, left of me, right of me, on me, beneath me, surfacing me, descending me, facing me, far back behinding me, out yonder distancing me, right there alongsiding me, i’m backing to sea the way a cast away child hungers for home, i’m getting to sea as a city dweller thirsts for wild winds, i’m going to sea with the heart of a sailor, i’m coming out to sea with the kids who greet fishing boats, i’m entering into sea as a sleepwalker enters the abyss, i’m surfacing sea with deep dwelling mermaids, i’m descending sea following the steps of mountain goats, i stir bewilderment into my navigation by envisioning other possible relations with sea, other possibilities of sea, but the sea must be somewhere here, behind this slope, beneath that hill, left of me, right of me, on me, beneath me, surfacing me, descending me, facing me, far back behinding me, out yonder distancing me, right there alongsiding me, the breath of sea is rousing up a fragrance, now i need to know if i want to enter in or come out, be back or get to, surface or descend, if i step with the feet of homecoming or with the heart of a sailor, carrying dreams or street dust, as a guest who envisions belonging, who calls for tremendous immensity yet still dreads the strange water strange people, which sea is foreign, which people familiar, i reveal to you dear, in my land no one relishes in crossing the sea, plain no two ways about it, i reveal to you dear that i am here stricken with tremendous-immensity-indecision, a rare disease, scared and more wanting, shy and more electrifying, you must be somewhere here, behind this slope, beneath that hill, left of me, right of me, on me, beneath me, surfacing me, descending me, facing me, far back behinding me, out yonder distancing me, right there alongsiding me, the breath of you is rousing, now i need to know if i want to enter in or come out, be back or get to, surface or descend, approach or distance, be left or right of, be horizontal or vertical to, my feet still wanting, the firmament’s feet still there, illusory pedestal of sky, the horizontal line shaping the sea, the intercepting fence where tremendous immensity pivots, the innocent indicator of direction, the firmament’s feet still there, feet with an endless dream of moving while still fixed, the horizon sustains me upright, the horizon cuts me crosswise, the horizon fences me from falling into that further tremendous immensity, the firmament’s feet like my feet on earth’s surface, like my feet teetering on sea’s surface, a mattress teetering on waves, salt hunting skin, wind snapping face, the firmament’s feet still there, proper orientation, sure enough, she gives me a sense of place to be back to, she’s magically deceptive, or google maps’ not just a cheap trick after all, will come out to sea, enter into sea, get to sea, descend sea, surface sea, go to sea, be back to sea, be back with tremendous immensity, will sea before dawn breaks in time to admire the sun, i have seen the line at the bottom of sky crack glimmers of clear light, i pulse with tremendous-immensity-indecision, scared and more wanting, shy and more electrifying, the fear of not having a place to go back to is nothing compared to the fear of vanishing in the middle of that place, the angst of not being able to get to a tremendous immensity doesn’t touch that of being in the middle of tremendous immensity, getting to sea before dawnbreak causes much less misery than trying to resolve my relation with sea, to ease the heart, i should fabricate a bed out of sea, build a house out of tremendous immensity, even if the sea is just one tremendous immensity shredded on a map of belligerent corporations, am i in my region or your region, foreign waters familiar people, foreign people familiar waters, i have seen the line at the bottom of sky crack glimmers of clear light, i lift my gaze, your voice breaks across my ear, all at once a tremendous immensity is slit, i fear a false orientation, a misorientation with sea getting to river, my tremendous-immensity-indecision rises to a peak then softly shatters, facing me a river tiny as a stream, water choked with garbage glistening, google maps one huge cheap trick, or it’s the illusion of her disorienting me, making me non-orientational, in time for dawnbreak, tremendous immensity must be somewhere here still, behind this slope, beneath that hill, left of me, right of me, on me, beneath me, surfacing me, descending me, facing me, far back behinding me, out yonder distancing me, right there alongsiding me, the breath of tremendous immensity is rousing up a fragrance, now i need to know if i want to enter in or come out, be back or get to, surface or descend, approach or distance, be left or right of, be horizontal or vertical to, my feet still wanting, the firmament’s feet still there, the sun on whichever side it rises is still the sun, she whoever she is i don’t know, a vague pronoun, a distant presence, she gives me a sense of place to be back to, she gives me the illusion of proper orientation, who knows if this sea has ever been real, or if it has died, dried, began, concluded, had an orientation and was a disorientation, she had been the place to be back to and had been tremendously immense, two strangers have come out to sea, entered into sea, gotten to sea, descended sea, surfaced sea, gone to sea, been back to sea, or are still teetering on the bed entering into the abyss, still last night’s bed, the strange blind hands opened ready and clasped in someone else’s, teetering sea dream comes when the window cracks glimmers of clear harsh and dazzling light that ruptures the tremendous immensity of a black night, and i burst out laughing, hopeless, radiant, feral, i made it in time to break dawn surfacing the sea, i missed the time to break dawn surfacing the sea, in my ear, your voice still flickering, she gives me a sense of place to be back to, and i release myself into disorientation, tremendous immensity, but in fact, is that sense necessary?

* “bottom of sky” is the literal translation of “chân tr?i,” which is commonly understood to be the horizon. With “chân” comes the concept of a base, directly referring to the leg or the foot, so that the space of the sky is seemingly standing on, held up by, this line.

 

Click here for original text

h??ng nào v?i bi?n

nàng cho tôi c?m giác m?t ch?n v?, ti?ng ng??i ?êm qua ch?n v?n bên tai khi hai k? l? cùng tìm l?i bi?n, nh? th? chính nàng ch? không ai khác s? d?n h??ng, dù nàng là ai tôi ?âu hay, m?t ??i t? m?, m?t hi?n di?n xa, m?t nh?c kh?, nàng ch?a t?ng n?i này, càng không giây kh?c này, chính nàng ch? không ai khác bi?t l?i, b?n ?? google h?n ba gi? cu?c b? t? khách s?n ch? là trò nh?m, ??ng lo, mình s? t?i bi?n tr??c r?ng ?ông ?? k?p ng?m m?t tr?i, ?ã t? lúc tr?i mìn m?t, nh?ng l?i s?i nguyên s??ng m?t ng?a lim dim m? ti?ng gõ móng d?p d?n thu?c ??a, nh?ng xe ?i?n ba bánh ngó gác chuông câm, nh?ng ô c?a l?ng ph?c ? d?u lâu ?ài c? l?t vào nh?ng ngôi sao th?c mu?n, nh?ng ô m? nh?t tr?ng, bàn tay tôi mù loà l? l?m m? s?n và l?t th?m trong k? khác, nh? th? chính k? l? ?y ?ang ??nh v? tôi m?t n?i ch?n kh? th?, m?t kh? th? quan h? c?a tôi v?i bi?n, m?t kh? th? bi?n, s? là bi?n tr??c r?ng ?ông, s? m?t tr?i, lý do c?a nh?ng b??c chân ham, h?i bi?n ?ang lên, bi?n h?n ?âu ?ây, ??ng sau con d?c này, d??i ng?n ??i kia, trái tôi, ph?i tôi, trên tôi, d??i tôi, lên tôi, xu?ng tôi, tr??c m?t tôi, sau hút tôi, xa tít t?p tôi, k? c?nh tôi, tôi v? bi?n theo cách ??a con lang thèm quê nhà, tôi t?i bi?n nh? khách ph? khát gió d?i, tôi ?i bi?n b?ng trái tim thu? th?, tôi ra bi?n cùng tr? con ngóng thuy?n chài, tôi vào bi?n k? m?ng du vào th?m th?m, tôi lên bi?n cùng thu? th?n t? ?áy n??c, tôi xu?ng bi?n theo b??c s?n d??ng, tôi t? gây r?i ph??ng h??ng b?ng m??ng t??ng nh?ng kh? th? quan h? tôi v?i bi?n khác n?a, nh?ng kh? th? bi?n khác n?a, dù bi?n h?n ?âu ?ây, ??ng sau con d?c này, d??i ng?n ??i kia, trái tôi, ph?i tôi, trên tôi, d??i tôi, lên tôi, xu?ng tôi, tr??c m?t tôi, sau hút tôi, xa tít t?p tôi, k? c?nh tôi, h?i bi?n ngát lên, gi? tôi c?n bi?t tôi mu?n vào hay ra, v? hay t?i, lên hay xu?ng, tôi ?ang b??c chân k? h?i h??ng hay trái tim thu? th?, tôi mang m?ng m? hay b?i ph? ph??ng, làm khách bi?n mà t??ng quê nhà, ?òi mênh mông mà v?n b?n ch?n l? n??c l? ng??i, bi?n nào l?, ng??i nào quen, tôi giãi bày ng??i ?i, x? tôi không ai m?n mà v??t bi?n, c?c ch?ng ?ã thôi, tôi giãi bày ng??i ?i tôi m?c ch?ng l??ng l? tr??c mênh mông, m?t c?n b?nh l?, s? thêm ham, e dè thêm háo h?c, ng??i h?n ?âu ?ây, ??ng sau con d?c này, d??i ng?n ??i kia, trái tôi, ph?i tôi, trên tôi, d??i tôi, lên tôi, xu?ng tôi, tr??c m?t tôi, sau hút tôi, xa tít t?p tôi, k? c?nh tôi, h?i ng??i ?ang lên, gi? tôi c?n bi?t tôi mu?n vào hay ra, v? hay t?i, lên hay xu?ng, g?n hay xa, trái hay ph?i, ngang hay d?c, chân tôi v?n ham, chân tr?i v?n ?ó, b? ?? ?o t??ng c?a tr?i, nét k? ngang t?o hình bi?n, rào ch?n làm ?i?m t?a gi?a mênh mông, d?u ch? n?i ngây th? ph??ng h??ng, chân tr?i v?n ?ó, chân tr?i m? b?t t?n d?ch chuy?n mà v?n v?ng vàng, chân tr?i nâng tôi, x? ngang tôi, chân tr?i rào ch?n tôi kh?i ngã phía mênh mông xa h?n n?a, chân tr?i nh? chân tôi trên m?t ??t, nh? chân tôi ch?ng ch?nh m?t bi?n, t?m n?m ch?ng ch?nh sóng, mu?i m?n s?n da, gió bi?n táp m?t, chân tr?i v?n ?ó, ?ã ?úng h??ng, qu? th?, nàng cho tôi c?m giác m?t ch?n v?, nàng huy?n ho?c kì di?u, hay b?n ?? google không h?n trò nh?m, s? ra bi?n, vào bi?n, t?i bi?n, xu?ng bi?n, lên bi?n, ?i bi?n, v? bi?n, v? v?i mênh mông, s? bi?n tr??c r?ng ?ông ?? k?p ng?m m?t tr?i, tôi ?ã th?y ???ng chân tr?i r?n nh?ng tia sáng r?, tôi ??p r?n ch?ng l??ng l? tr??c mênh mông, s? thêm ham, r?t rè thêm háo h?c, n?i s? không ch?n v? ch?ng ?áng k? gì n?i s? m?t hút gi?a ch?n v?, lo âu không t?i ???c mênh mông ?âu b?ng ? gi?a mênh mông, t?i ???c bi?n tr??c r?ng ?ông ?âu làm tôi kh?n ??n b?ng vi?c xác ??nh quan h? c?a tôi v?i bi?n, ?? yên lòng, tôi s? ph?i ngu? t?o bi?n thành gi??ng, l?y mênh mông làm nhà, c? khi bi?n ch? là m?t mênh mông b? c?t v?n trên b?n ?? c?a các t?p ?oàn hùng h?, tôi ?ang ? x? tôi hay x? ng??i, n??c l? ng??i quen, n??c quen ng??i l?, tôi ?ã th?y ???ng chân tr?i r?n nh?ng tia sáng r?, tôi ng??c nhìn lên, ti?ng ng??i v? bên tai, m?t mênh mông xé to?c b?t th?n, e mình ?ã sai h??ng, ?ã l?c h??ng bi?n t?i sông, ch?ng l??ng l? tr??c mênh mông c?a tôi dâng lên r?i v? toác ra nh? b?ng, tr??c m?t tôi dòng sông nh? nh? su?i, n??c l?p loá rác r?n, b?n ?? google m?t trò nh?m kh?ng, hay chính huy?n ?o nàng l?c h??ng tôi, làm tôi vô h??ng, ?ã k?p r?ng ?ông, n?i mênh mông h?n v?n ?âu ?ây, ??ng sau con d?c này, d??i ng?n ??i kia, trái tôi, ph?i tôi, trên tôi, d??i tôi, lên tôi, xu?ng tôi, tr??c m?t tôi, sau hút tôi, xa tít t?p tôi, k? c?nh tôi, h?i mênh mông ngát lên, gi? tôi ch? c?n bi?t tôi mu?n vào hay ra, v? hay t?i, lên hay xu?ng, g?n hay xa, trái hay ph?i, ngang hay d?c, chân tôi v?n ham, chân tr?i v?n ?ó, m?t tr?i lên phía nào c?ng v?n m?t tr?i, nàng là ai tôi ?âu hay, m?t ??i t? m?, m?t hi?n di?n xa, nàng cho tôi c?m giác m?t ch?n v?, nàng huy?n tôi t??ng mình ?úng h??ng, bi?t ?âu bi?n này ch?a t?ng có th?c, hay ?ã ch?t, ?ã h?t, ?ã t?ng b?t ??u, ?ã t?ng k?t thúc, ?ã t?ng có h??ng và ?ã vô h??ng, nàng ?ã ch?n v? và nàng ?ã mênh mông, hai k? l? ?ã ra bi?n, vào bi?n, t?i bi?n, ?i bi?n, lên bi?n, xu?ng bi?n, v? bi?n, hay v?n trên chi?c gi??ng ch?ng ch?nh vào th?m th?m, v?n chi?c gi??ng ?êm qua, nh?ng bàn tay mù loà l? l?m m? s?n và l?t th?m trong k? khác, ch?ng ch?nh gi?c m? bi?n ??n khi c?a s? r?n lên nh?ng tia sáng r? chói g?t làm v? toác n?i mênh mông c?a ?êm ?en, và tôi b?t c??i, tuy?t v?ng, chói loà, hoang d?i, tôi ?ã k?p r?ng ?ông lên bi?n, tôi ?ã l? r?ng ?ông lên bi?n, bên tai tôi, gi?ng ng??i v?n ch?n v?n, nàng cho tôi c?m giác m?t ch?n v?, và tôi th? tôi vào vô h??ng, mênh mông, th?c thì, ng??i có c?n c?m giác ?ó ch?ng?

 

Nhã Thuyên writes, translates, edits books and sometimes organizes literary events. She has authored several books of poetry, short fiction and some tiny books for children. Her most recent poetry book words breathe, creatures of elsewhere (t? th?, nh?ng ng??i l?) was published in Vietnamese (Nha Nam, 2015) and in English translation by Kaitlin Rees (Vagabond Press, 2016). With Kaitlin Rees, she currently co-edits AJAR, a bilingual literary journal-press based in Hanoi, and together they co-organized the inaugural mini poetry festival in Hanoi 2016. She is shaping a book of essays on Vietnamese contemporary poetry and making some nonsense writing.

Kaitlin Rees was born in Wampsville, has been windily between New York and Hanoi since 2011. With Nhã Thuyên she found AJAR, a small bilingual publishing press with an online journal and a poetry festival. Her translations of Nhã Thuyên’s poetry have been published in various literary spaces, with one full-length collection, words breathe, creatures of elsewhere (Vagabond Press, 2016). Her ongoing poetic artwork of compiling fragments of an infinite dictionary was exhibited at Zalaegerszeg, Hungary in 2015 and in the hutongs of Shanghai, China in 2016. She is the recent recipient of the PEN/Heim Translation Grant 2017.

Charles Lim Yi Yong (b. 1973) officially represented Singapore at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015) and participated with the collective tsunamii.net, which he co-founded, in documenta 11 (2002).

SEASTATE 9 Proclamation: FORESHORES ACT (CHAPTER 113) (Original Enactment: Ordinance 8 of 1872) REVISED EDITION 1985 (30th March 1987) An Act to provide for reclamations and to validate and facilitate leases or grants of foreshores and submerged lands. [11th October 1872] Declaration regarding reclaimed lands 5. —(1) The President may, by proclamation published in the Gazette, declare any lands formed by the reclamation of any part of the foreshore of Singapore, or any areas of land reclaimed from the sea to be State land, and thereupon that land shall immediately vest in the State freed and discharged from all public and private rights which may have existed or been claimed over the foreshore or the sea-bed before the same were so reclaimed. (2) All land declared to be State land under this section shall be subject to the State Lands Act (Cap. 314).

The Transpacific Literary Project is a platform for writing from across East and Southeast Asia. Read work from our most recent project folio, Fluid.

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