Poetry Monday: Xuan Quynh

Xuan Quynh (1942 – 1988) was born in Vietnam’s northern province of Ha Tay. She wrote “My Son’s Childhood” in 1969, at the height of the Vietnam War.


Translation by Phan Thanh Hao with Lady Borton

What do you have for a childhood
That you still smile in the bomb shelter?
The morning wind comes to visit you
The full moon follows you
The long river, the immense sea, a round pond
The enemies’ bomb smoke, the evening star.
At three months you turn your head, at seven you crawl!
I long for peace every day, every month for a year.
For a year, you toddle around the shelter.
The sky is blue, but way over there
The grass is green far away on the ancient tombs.
My heart is a pendulum
Pounding in my chest, keeping time for the march.
The small cricket knows to dig a shelter
The crab doesn’t sleep: it, too, fears the bombs.
In the moonlight, even the hare hides.
The black clouds hinder the enemy’s sight.
Flowers and trees join the march
Concealing troops crossing streams, valleys, villages.
My son, trenches crisscross everywhere.
They’re as long as the roads you’ll someday take.
Our deep shelter is more precious than a house.
The gun is close by, the bullets ready
If I must shoot.
When you grow up, you’ll hold your life in your own hands.
Whatever I think at present
I note down to remind you of your childhood days.
In the future, when our dreams come true,
You’ll love our history all the more.

The Siege of the Fort at Stony Point (Chapter 24, Washington’s Immortals)

The British fort at Stony Point, NY was “one of the most heavily-defended fortresses in North America.” The attackers had to somehow make it through the “abatis — pointed, blade-like, wooden stakes that were waiting for them, poised to tear into the flesh and lacerate the limbs of any man who attempted to penetrate the British defenses. Until the abatis was removed, the rest of the assault force would be unable to enter the fort.”

The force Washington sent to accomplish this task consisted of twenty men. The name of the group was “Forlorn Hope.” The Forlorn Hope “would use the axes to slowly hack their way through the timbers while under constant fire from the enemy. If they made it through alive, they would have to begin the process again and chop through yet another row of thick abatis, which guarded a fortification bristling with guns.” The leader of this group was a Marylander, Major Jack Steward.

This book is absolutely enthralling. Which is why she’s reading at such a crawl. (She wonders why they chose ‘Forlorn Hope’ as the group’s name? She would have given the group a name with more positive vibes: ‘Forever Hope’ or ‘Always Hope’)

Stay tuned.

Quote of the Day (Also FOTD), Last Monday in February 2022

“Ukraine is still winning, 96 hours later. Good morning, world.” — Anastasiia Lapatina, The Kyiv Independent

Washington’s War of Attrition, Part II

Self has now reached a little less than halfway through Washington’s Immortals. At this rate, it’ll be another week . . .

What she’s gleaned so far is that Washington was an excellent guerrilla fighter. He cut his teeth in the woods and forests, and he had managed to get one Indian tribe, the Stockbridge Mohicans, on his side. Ranged against him were the British, American Loyalists, and five of the six nations that made up the Iroquois Confederacy: the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora.

Washington’s opponent was Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe, the son of a Royal Navy Captain, graduate of Eton and Oxford. Simcoe commanded a light infantry unit called the Queen’s Rangers which “participated in many brutal engagements.”

Washington was ambushed by Simcoe on August 31, 1778. Simcoe took the day, but the colonial officers escaped, “thanks to the courage of dozens of Mohicans.” The Stockbridge Mohicans were almost entirely wiped out. They lost their land, too. “Discharged by Washington’s orders in September 1778, the tribe received a paltry thousand dollars.”

In the fall of 1778, Washington moved the American army to White Plains, New York to keep the British pinned down in New York. He “ordered the creation of light infantry units, which had more flexibility and the ability to mount raids . . . they would counter the British light infantry operating in the area, harass their supply lines along the road network in today’s Bronx and southern Westchester County, and hamper their attempts to forage.”

Washington’s war of attrition worked, mostly because the British never got reinforcements. After 1777, they only received 4,700 troops, nowhere near the 19,200 that were lost.

Stay tuned.

SquareOdds #21: Cheeky Brits

Tomorrow is the last day of the SquareOdds Challenge. It has been so much fun. Thank you, Becky for dreaming up The Squares Challenge!

Here are some cheeky pictures from London:

Why Books Are Life

June 28, 1778: The British and the colonists square off at a site near present-day Freehold, New Jersey. The colonists are led by Gen. Charles Lee, the British by Gen. Henry Clinton.

“Lee planned to surround Clinton’s forces, but the strength of the opposition took him by surprise. After only an hour” the Rebels began a disorganized retreat. Washington was leading the bulk of his army towards the battleground when he began to encounter fleeing groups of soldiers. When he eventually met up with Lee, “Washington simply looked Lee in the eye and asked, whence arises this disorder and confusion, to which Lee had no real reply.” Washington then unleashed “a terrific eloquence of unprintable scorn . . . dismissed Lee and took charge of the battle . . . His presence stopped the retreat . . . His stately appearance on horseback, his calm, dignified courage . . . provoked a wave of enthusiasm among the troops.”

Washington to Lieut. Colonel Nathaniel Ramsay of the 3rd Maryland Regiment: “If you can stop the British for ten minutes, till I form, you will save my army!”

Ramsay’s response: “I will stop them or fall.”

Washington’s Immortals, pp. 184 – 185


Self’s own painting of hyacinths


You were always free
Just thought yourself otherwise
Unthink + just be.
Listen for birdsong + trees.
If you want to reconnect.

  • For many years, Joel Tan served as Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Director of Educational Outreach. Then he moved to Kapaau, Hawaii and feels so joyful, he’s been posting a poem a day. This one’s from Feb. 26.

Cee’s Flower of the Day (FOTD): Razzleberri ‘Fringe Flower’

This is one of her oldest plants. She had no idea it would thrive in her garden, one of the few survivors from her early garden experiments. Now, it is about the size of a tree — it’s eight feet tall! She took this picture two days ago, for Cee’s Flower of the Day.

SquareOdds #20: “Our Whole, Unruly Selves”

Still playing catch-up with the SquareOdds Challenge!

What a month February has been. Thank you to Becky at Life of B for making it special.

Current exhibit, San Jose Museum of Art:

SquareOdds #19: Oh Garden Wild

“Wild” was the word one of self’s neighbors used to describe her garden. Yes, yes it is. She took these pictures last spring.

Posting this for Becky’s SquareOdds Challenge. It’s been a fun month.

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