Even great, lethal calamities can have redemptive consequences, however small in scale and little noticed. For decades now, American and Vietnamese poets have been translating between the two languages -- not only bringing two cultures a little closer, but trying to behold the meanings that still ripple and evolve from their terrible collision in war.
The William Joiner Center for War and Social Consequences, at the University of Massachusetts, has fostered much of this work. Martha Collins is one of the poets who has worked with Vietnamese counterparts. The latest volume to come from this effort is Green Rice, by Lam Thi My Da, translated by Collins and Thuy Dinh.
Lam Thi My Da, born in 1949, writes love poems, poems about the natural world, poems that question traditional roles of women. For an American reader, her images of war may be the most likely entry into the book:
White circles of conical hats have come out
Like the quiet skies of our childhood
Like the wings of storks spread in the night
White circles evoking the open sky
The golds of rice and cluster-bombs blend together
Even delayed-fuse bombs bring no fear
Our spirits have known many years of war
Come, sisters, let us gather the harvest
Each of us wears her own small moon
Glittering on a carpet of gold rice
We are the harvesters of my village