HT ( / )

In Phan Thiet

He owns nothing, not even a blade of grass
Though the hills are wide, not even a small plot of earth,
Yet my brother belongs to the land and sky of Phan Thiet.

It was here he first saw the sea,
Through an opening in a bunker
After days of climbing—
The ocean immense, the bunker so narrow
A sand shower whitened his shoulders at the slightest motion.

The stench of gunpowder and sweat in that place,
The uncontrollable beating of his heart,
The intense moist wind,
The sea rocking as anxiously as a ship about to leave.

Stars shining in the deep night
Cut trails towards the water,
The soldiers groping through hills by their light that December,
My brother among them,
Ocean rushing forward, embracing all,
And love for the sea made them careless—
He died in bombs raining down
Only inches from the water.

Here you are elder brother, though I'd been looking
Elsewhere, hope motivating me to scale the slopes
in Tan Canh,
Sa Thay,
Dac Pet,
Dac To.

I've had the fevers you had,
Soaked in the same jungle rain you soaked in,
But never imagined an afternoon in Phan Thiet
When I would stand crying alone behind a car.

The jungle is still there, the battle ground still there.
A few more steps to reach Highway One,
Just a few more,
And yet
Nothing can change what is or what happened.
The sea is the same deep blue as when you fell.

I don't know the name of that hill,
But I know you are still standing there
Unaware the alert has long ended,
Unaware of news from home, or of your brother's face.

Not lying in a cemetery,
You live with the hill, turning green with its grass,
The blades of it have become our family's joss sticks,
And this hill is also our mother's child.

I've had to bear all other family concerns.

Car horns blare as night deepens in Phan Thiet.
Lights of the city show the way for a fisherman.
You do not sleep, and the fisherman does not sleep—
You both have nightly conversations with the sea.

In that way, Phan Thiet owns my brother.

by Huu Thinh

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