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Nhã Thuyên Translated by Kaitlin Rees

a parade i watch my shadow in a cup of abysmally black iced coffee, a special abysmality that must belong to hanoi, hanoi cafes, he tells me, but you as the diminutive she are certainly by no means a hanoi girl, so rarely do you as the diminutive she call me as the elder he to be addressed as she the diminutive, more often it is the sound of i, remote, vague, reserved, as if scared of something dangerous, making it so this one doesn’t know how to correctly address this poet miss, i harmlessly laugh, i am never a hanoi girl, and i know myself that i am not dangerous, though of course i know how to toy with danger at times, perhaps an eternally bad habit of mine is not being so discerning with age, familial relation, individual position, and social status, i am scarcely concerned if the people talking with me are the age of grandparents, parents, uncles, or aunts, if they are elder or diminutive, married or single, even i am cautious to say whether male or female or sexually under consideration or without a sex at all, nor do i know if they are housed in careers, or live in some huts of work, if they are big or small writers, great or little officials, the mess of clandestine arrangements that affix personal pronouns in vietnamese, there, better off not taking the great pains of concern, my brain sometimes has a way of thinking and treating problems simply like that, which is to treat the problem by abandoning it, we don’t have you & i the rather tidy pair, your collective english seems to solve this problem breezily as air, i watch my shadow in the special abysmality of hanoi, reading an email from my friend living in america tormented by the choices in the writer’s language, the obligation to 69


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consider and settle nearly every relationship is more and more exhausting until all hope is lost with these vietnamese pronouns so that ne/ve chooses to write in english, ah, no, i don’t know how to speak about ey, this story, in vietnamese eh, love like hate, except for an outpatient of the rowdy bunch of relationships, i like to use the word you friend to be addressed as i, you a close friend to be addressed as i who is your close friend, there the we, us the y’all, for genuinely close friends, you fucker, me fucker on some rare occasions, a self and me, sometimes i and youme, you person, or me and a self, two as one, two in one, cherished, fluffy love, deep gratitude, enchanted passion, you, second person, you person, the sound in vietnamese sharing the meaning of a human or humans, the special abysmality of hanoi is becoming dull and watery, come back to the story of addressment that belongs to the two of us okay, we’re all in the same gang, eh, i just know you are the person i am talking to, i don’t care what else, the gentleman changes his tone, to become oh so almost loving, dear lord, this poet miss, you as the diminutive she are the same as me, opening, widely so and to be exposed, wishing our selves could talk much more together, i secretly think, just need to catch the hovering feeling of being exposed is all, sometimes as if the whole sky was abysmal enough, why the need for a conversation, the need to talk together, the need for brutally honest talk together with personal pronouns properly addressed, you person surely know this, the terms of address to me are a story depending on chance, depending on inspiration, depending on love, don’t worry to keep rituals, i don’t want to exploit the intricateness of vietnamese language to provoke puzzlement, sometimes it makes us feel we are gambling with the whole system of a relationship, even gambling with someone’s love life, more panicked, you person surely know this, 70


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some transition from i and friend to diminutive she and elder he, i and a self, that dear there, this dear here, there is here here is there easily becomes a dangerous game, this special flat and watery abysmality of hanoi continues to save my stumbling way though the use of pronouns, especially for forms of alternative relationships, ah, like this i am lead by the heart to the intricateness of these vietnamese pronouns, this difficult love, this uncertain not-really-directionless chaos, this supple vagueness, but i love diminutive you in a way not easy to accept right now, as some of you guys are needing clarity, right, a sort of temporarily nonsexual love, without origin, unleveled social relations, asking for the highest possible equality, or censorship of excessive subtlety, the gentleman says, but enough of it i’m again watching my shadow in a cup of abysmally black iced coffee, i know i need to change the subject, my whole life never having gone outside hanoi beyond a few hundred kilometers, of course i’ve never been to paris, but hanoi, mostly these streets of hanoi, we’re still comparing it to a little paris, ah yeah, french literature i sure love it a lot, so easily the heart leads, the heart leads into illusions of doting, worn in, the heart leads into easy recklessness, yeah, certainly roi, i should go to paris one day soonest, if only to know that it’s possible for my self to fall in love so easily like a visitor on foot, maybe one day my self will also be a global citizen, not concerned with a destination, an origin, one day i will have been every neat i & you, i, you person, this human being, that human being, okay, looks like the issue of the second person and i is finished for the time being, now, i can concentrate on watching my shadow in the cup of abysmally black iced coffee, contemplating the idle specialty of hanoi, i need to more carefully consider the relational pronouns when talking about that being, nem, right, third person, singular, if it’s clearly known one is a male, when 71


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feeling a more dear loveliness, i will address myself as a humble female servant and call him a fair man in chitchats, you my close friend need to open your eyes, my friend says, a trap set by a pack of men, what’s to desire, i and he, even it, joe schmoe, john doe, simple fellow and then the more neutral my lord, an archaic word of nguyễn du’s xviii century, is more interesting than that fair man, that fair maiden, the heritage the early xx century’s literary independence group, that elder he, the elder he of youme as the literary heritage of social doctrine, that being, that person, so dreamy, isn’t it, i suddenly see my self changing tone, i become oh so almost loving, oh lord, he, fair man, that person, that human being, so almost the same as me, opening, widely and so exposed, a wish, but enough of it, just let the hovering feeling of being exposed be all, sometimes as if the whole sky was abysmal enough, why the need for a conversation, the need to talk together, the need for brutally honest talk together with personal pronouns properly addressed, just depending on chance, depending on inspiration, depending on love, don’t worry to keep rituals, i don’t want to exploit the intricateness of vietnamese language to provoke puzzlement, to risk what’s left of my self ’s vulnerable soul in a relationship, sometimes even a person’s whole life, a fate, this dangerous game, you my friend comment, truly crazy already, you are nuts about him right, lovelorn again already, eh, i say, not that, i your close friend am just afraid that i your close friend am risking my self ’s whole life for some moments, stop the delusions of a soulmate being feasible anymore baby, then casual lovers is nice, okay, but living together surely, how thoroughly bearable, yeah, i say, only because i’m still sapped in bafflement from the personal pronouns of vietnamese, an onus unfinished, though i confess, i am nuts about him you know, i need a composed consciousness, i know, thus the 72


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need to settle the relationship between me and the pronouns, you my close friend can see my your close friend’s notable progress in this serpentine writing here, the couple of damp pronouns used by students of antiquity as diminutive she—elder he, fixed to a sex, naturally becoming i—he, laborious neutrality, but he is still quite male in vietnamese, my friend says, but you fucker—ah, you close friend naturally changing the tone now aren’t you?—proclaim to no longer be sure you are female, but still you are dying by the pack of men, no, i defend, he presently is the optimum choice, neutral in its original nature, not expressively rich, its attitude, can be correct for both male and female, just because the guy chi phèo in nam cao’s book of the early mid xx century, no one doesn’t think he is someone who gets pauperized by life, and worse, alienated from humanity, so that he obviously bears the plight of the disgraced, the disdained, and it seems a greater devastation if it’s a disdained male, i am only laboriously using a more original him, third person, singular, though also a bit involved in ideas of maleness, otherwise should probably just write fair ma(ide)n, cliché queen, ne/ve, xe are already there but no one dares to use, my friend you mope in an email while i am still busy watching my shadow in the cup of abysmally black iced coffee, i recently used xem in an essay, the professor here warned me against being so vigilant, well-groomed, affected, a pity that a bunch of pronouns can be created in some half-baked excitement and then no one uses them for fear of turning peculiar, yeah, i stir my coffee clanging, the abysmality diluting, my shadow blurring, email reply, say by the way to nem the poem i am in a hardship with is all the pronouns, i decide to make a parade of all the personal pronouns of vietnamese, discombobulated, mingle mixed, altered, purged, you concluded the epoch of elder he and diminutive she a long time ago 73


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didn’t you, now seem intent on clearing out of the rest of the epoch of i and he eh, lovelorn again eh, a broken relationship right, yeah, i admit that ne is truly delicate, can realize i alter each page of writing, can guess before every alteration happens, it’s true my infatuated love epoch of elder he and diminutive she diminutive she and elder he, passionate, wearied, exhausted, excited, has relocated in the epoch of i and he, more like a monologue, more indifferent, cold, more cagey, calling for some distance to be kept, calling for independence, decisively avoiding an exact position in relationship, without expectation, decisively learning not to expect, learning to analyze the things and the human with a composed consciousness, i admit that ne is truly delicate, but ne not knowing i am possibly, or nearly in a relationship, or in some relationships, i—he is no longer suitable now, outdated already, i want a peaceful reintegration, want affection, love, tenderness, healing to come back, i don’t want this shattering, desiccation, barrenness, i continue to question myself in this diluting abysmality, stop it, it’s only coffee, you my friend says, stop it close friend, what the hell is the world on the verge of collapse just because one/some old male guys don’t know they are wandering in some lands with some different people, they are only traps, save yourself, traps or gaps, enough already just go make some poetry, listen to that rhyme there, no, i say, just because i am still sapped in bafflement from the personal pronouns, the heavy debt is not over yet, need to research and treat these research questions well, how can the way i write be separate at all from the way i live, close friend you know that, my notion of love is greatly changing, perhaps it’s not easy to accept right now, a kind of love laboriously equal without condition, regardless of stratification, social labels, a challenge to the common limit of morality, see where it goes, any limit, any limitlessness, any

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deep abyss, any profound sky, of course one must accept shatteredness, painful grief, broken-hearted, when it’s only one self changing, it will be fine soon, i say, when i close friend finish writing this interminable poem about pronouns, you friend abruptly cut the facebook chat light, but still one more line to send, abysmal enough yet, okay go vanish, write poetry, such a madness, let me give you my close friend one more line for this interminable erotic poem, enjoy being broken hearted all the time then and take good care of all pronouns nhé, okay, yeah, abysmal enough yet, never enough, i’m diligently researching my shadow in this diluting blackness, this specialty must not belong to hanoi, it could soon end up being a global abysmal specialty, or a non-specialty world, i may reserve a bit of sentimentality and nostalgia, and a bit of mercy for the personal pronouns of vietnamese that i avoid using, that i intended to erase, eradicate, relationships i make alternative, chaos, in flux, i am still a phantom calling for a changed world in the changes i make myself, tiny little ones, truly absurd, the relationship of a first person i with a second person, i/youme/my self/me fucker/i the close friend/melted selves/this dear here…—you friend/your self/you the close friend/y’all/ you fucker/you person/that dear there/that one…, the relationship between me and the third person, i—he/joe schmoe/johnjane doe/fair ma(ide)n /that elder he/that being/miss/the wench…, endless permutations, the core principle is love, okay, don’t be preoccupied with sex, non-social relations, un-leveled, un-labeled, can’t this work, i am compelled to eliminate some economical terminology, workable or sustainable, no, just love, don’t care about anything else, too utopian, fictionalized fancy, uh so, my abysmal cup of coffee is diluted already, i’m practically exhausted, at last to say, still that idea, i want to eliminate even i if possible, for dreaming, to dissolve into the

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extremity of the universe, of the universe filled with love, but this mass of pronouns like weeds to get rid of, so i, he, that woman, that miss, the wench, still exist, she, he, ne, ve, xe, nem, xem, blah blah, it’s enough, you please just let me be, i will learn the way to enjoy being broken-hearted all the time, in order to take good care of all pronouns, okay, in order to be any one and be able to not be any one, someone and no one, here and always over there, the selves without my self, the shadows diluting more and more always in cups of black iced coffee, an abysmal specialty that is never hanoi

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