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'My Father’s Bàng Tree': A Poem by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

This poem is featured in Volume 1 of In My Ear, Your Voice Still Flickering // Bên tai tôi, giọng người vẫn chờn vờn, a three-part, bilingual collection of works by more than 20 Vietnamese artists and writers, curated by Saigoneer in collaboration with Miami Book Fair.

My Father's Bàng Tree

by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

When he built our house
my father spared a patch of earth
on which he planted a sapling

The bàng tree occupied my father’s entire garden
and lifted me into my playful childhood
as it grew into the dome of sky – vast and cool
Flocks of city birds came to sing
for only my father and me

I grew up
Dust and smoke filled our city
The buildings jostled and pushed against each other
Greed jostled and shoved against itself

Birds with broken wings
left the tree’s limbs empty
My father is small amongst the rising concrete towers
The bàng tree is lonely amongst the rising concrete towers

The bàng tree is my father’s entire garden
His hands, dotted by freckles, sweep its fallen leaves
He waters it with his songs
The tree turned into his life

I travel far from home
Between the layers of clouds
I look down to see a dot of green fire
My father’s bàng tree is burning itself through the city
Reaching high up, reaching high up

Art by Mình là Đỗ.

All three volumes of In My Ear, Your Voice Still Flickering // Bên tai tôi, giọng người vẫn chờn vờn are available for free download here. For more information on the zine, read our feature.

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