Sitting in the Graveyard by Tue Sy – translated by Nguyen Ba Chung & Martha Collins



Since the days of Genesis, fires have gone out

A human life is racked by ashes and dust

For a long time, I’ve been sitting in a graveyard

Like white silk, cold moonlight covers the forest—

As chill night winds blow in, demons tremble

Quivering, kissing heaps of thin bones

They cry, ask why their bodies haven’t crumbled

So their spirits, in wisps of flame, can disappear—

When the mind has not yet turned to dead wood

The black earth still shines with bright blue blood



I have become a wanderer from chaos

Hanging a soft shoe in my hair in autumn

I sit and count my dreams passing through leaves

On the grassy bank I let my eyelids fall—

Because I idled for ten long years in dreams

I embrace an old love, forgetting it’s twilight

One morning I hear the changed calls of birds

You can see me pushing devas’ shadows away—

The crimson earth makes people’s hearts eager

Rocks not yet worn smooth make hearts lonesome

Because of the city, the drizzle and strange sun

For ten years I forgot the dream of waiting



In the footprints of exile, I hold in my feelings

In the midst of infinity, what hope of sorrow, joy?

On strange wharves, who knows if wandering’s over

So I can return to drink the autumn winds—

Like a seagull’s wings over a rough sea

Drifting like wings from thousands of years ago

Recalling ancient people in moon-hidden places

And a time of love sent to the boundless sky—

Late afternoon, vast rapids, rising stones

The sorrows of this world will fade away

What magic is behind so much destruction?

And yet a rose just bloomed beside the stream—

Everywhere is the home of the Pure Land

A carefree life, no obstacles at all

No complications, no need for emancipation

A life of ease, like water beneath a bridge—

By the time I learned the sadness of life and death

And left home to find some space for myself

My mother had stopped crying for my father

She cried instead for me, my wandering life—

I miss my mother once, a thousand times

I love my sister: I know of nothing better

I bathe in the moon’s stream, by a strange hill

On an autumn evening, an island shines bright green



A life: a short stretch of rough road

I listen, all night long, to a waterfall

I step quickly over a long lost river

Waiting for rain to drizzle on butterfly wings—

One morning, my eyes flood with the past

The dark road connects to my former lives

I stand forever, in an endless forest stream

A fleeting dream of red blood at dusk



Born Pham Van Thuong on Feb 15, 1943 in Pakse, Laos, Tuệ Sỹ became a monk at a very early age. A well-known dissident in Vietnam, he was imprisoned for fourteen years, and remains one of the foremost scholars of Buddhism in the country. English translations of his poems by Nguyen Ba Chung and Martha Collins have appeared in Gulf Coast, Two Lines, Consequence, Salamander, AGNI, and elsewhere.

Nguyen Ba Chung is a writer, poet and translator. He is the co-translator of A Time Far Past; Mountain River: Vietnamese Poetry from The Wars 1948-1993; Distant Road ‑ Selected Poems of Nguyen Duy; Six Vietnamese Poets; Zen Poems from Early Vietnam, and others. He served for many years as Research Associate at the William Joiner Institute at U.Mass.-Boston.

Martha Collins is the author of ten collections of poetry, most recently Because What Else Could I Do (Pittsburgh, 2019), Night Unto Night (Milkweed, 2018) and Admit One: An American Scrapbook (Pittsburgh, 2016). She has also co-translated four volumes of Vietnamese poetry. She founded the creative writing program at the U.Mass.-Boston and taught at Oberlin College for ten years.