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.
MY SON’S CHILDHOOD
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.