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The Women Carry River Water by Nguyen Quang Thieu

July 29, 2001

Their toes are bony, with long black nails;

They spread like chicken feet.

For five, fifteen, thirty years, I've watched

The women go down to the river for water.

Their hair knots break in torrents

Down the backs of their soft wet shirts.

They grip their shoulder poles with one hand;

The other holds white clouds.

As the river presses against its banks to turn,

The men bring fishing poles and dreams of the sea.

The magic fish turn away and cry;

Bobbers lie still on the surface of the water.

The men, angry and sad, go far away.

For five, fifteen, thirty years, I've watched

The women come back from the river with water,

Crowds of naked children running behind and growing up.

The girls put poles on their shoulders and go to the river,

The boys carry fishing poles and dreams of the sea,

While the magic fish turn away and cry

Because they've seen the hook in the dazed bait.

*

From "The Women Carry River Water: Poems" by Nguyen Quang Thieu.

Translated and edited by Martha Collins and Nguyen Quang Thieu

(University of Massachusetts Press: 126 pp., $14.95)

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