Thursday, May 14, 2009

Viet Nam Grandfather Carp

A poem by Nguyen Quoc Chanh presented in translation by the Viet Nam Literature Project includes Grandfather Carp, dragons, and a bit more of the folklore of the relationship between humans and these transformed beings.

from Relationships


In the legends of dry springs, there are the pebbles’ intonations.
In the forest’s recollections, there is the waterfalls’ fable.
In resin singing, there is my mother’s shade.

A carp’s negative doesn’t know to speak.
A relic left over from dry ponds.

Where armies and generals of the lotus and water lily dispute their beauty.
Where swords and sabers of ponds and swamps yearly fight each other.
Where aquatic corpses lie, ghosts possessed with visions of lotus and water lily.

Their beauty becomes miasma, tired and spoiled.
It is the nourishment in soil’s unconsciousness.

They blossom into flowers white and yellow.
They blossom without hands or feet.
They are spices lacking in my mother’s kitchen corner everyday.

She carefully puts them away, they are strong and have the smell of mud.
From tender mud, a spongy bull frog just escaped the drought.
It croaks announcing that the grandfather carp is still alive.

The old man is a Dragon.

From a reptile transformed, to the urgent moment in flight, the Dragon lets drop a whisker.

A carp opens its mouth yawning sleepily, comes upon it, stores in stomach.
When becoming a Dragon, grandfather carp wakes up, daydreams in the reptile’s venom.
A copperhead crawls onto the roof, where the Dragon resides, dancing circles a medium, ashamed for lack of whiskers.
The Dragon is deliberate, emotionless, without headache or high blood pressure.
My mother drinks ancient and Western medicine, still cannot shake off the stomachache caused by the Dragon’s whisker’s damage.

Whiskers on a dragon, definitely the Eastern (Chinese version.) Thinking of drawings I've seen where , yes! there are whiskers on the dragons, never saw it before, but carp whiskers are mentioned in at least one folk tale, held on to by a little boy who needs to escape a phantasmic kingdom to get back to his real life. The boy uses the painful tug to direct the carp to take him home. Reptile's venom, aquatic corpses, ghosts possessed, beauty becomes miasma (an influence or atmosphere that tends to deplete or corrupt) this poem by Nguyen Quoc Chanh brings all to a mire. I would point to the river metaphor in my north american dragon journey found in Grandfather Carp poems. Here is a version where a swamp dries and a landscape dies. Does grandfather carp even survive? Grandmother attempts ancient and modern medicines but the whisker has fallen off and is impossible to stomach. Is the whisker also a hand hold on some creature getting out?

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