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Black Stars (Milkweed, 2013)

Black Stars cover

Black Stars, a bilingual collection of poems by Ngo Tu Lap, co-translated from the Vietnamese by Martha Collins and the author, was longlisted for the 2014 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation.

From Black Stars


Many months have passed, drenched in sweat
But I have returned
To boldly place on the table
Two hands, two five-pointed stars

Stories of war and shipwreck don’t attract me
When I close my eyes, two stars fly into the darkness

To fly is to see how lofty the sky is, how wide the sea
There, in the village, a rooster is crowing
In the scent of burning ricefields, dew is sparkling
Over there is my mother
There, my country

On guns and plows, millions of diligent stars
Are flying in silence
Black stars, black stars

One life might have drifted away
But one has returned
When I open my eyes, two stars alight
Before me
Pulsing, breathing


It leaves a streak, a comet tensed
Like a smile stopped abruptly on stunned lips

It sinks, making its way
Through thick darkness
Through bubbles rushing up like complex plots

Among the rotten leaves are green leaves
And a panicked eel

The sandal crawls over a soldier's uniform
Around a chair with broken legs
Beside shattered cups and bowls

Which of these bears the trace
Of sudden joy, the trace of a quarrel?

Waiting, the letters yellowed and crumbled
They still wait beside a delayed-fuse bomb

On the finger of a woman who died young
A ring still sparkles
In the depths of the black earth

See also Martha Collins’ essay about this poem:

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