Let me return the sunlight to the sky,
the cloud to the mountain, this life to the void.
Let me return this love to eternity:
bare, cold, empty, as the moon’s silent course.
Reluctantly, watching fate fade away,
let me return these burdens to the heap of time.
I follow the wind, returning to heaven,
I follow the water, returning to the cascades.
My heart open wide, I return,
a wave in the ocean’s vastness, a breaker at the shore.
Now, all that is left – this half stanza –
I return it all, the rushes rustle at the riverbank.
I brush off my pain
The colour of clarity
Notes on this poem
Phi Hoàng (b. 1954) is a Vietnamese poet, mother and retired school- teacher. Phi’s childhood love for poetry was tragically cut short during the Vietnam War, following the death of her parents and separation from her younger siblings. After many years working hard to raise her family and as a schoolteacher, she developed severe rheumatoid arthritis. This removed her from all the activities that she used to do, the fierce independence that she was proud of, and many other things valuable to her sense of self. Through this struggle, she returned to poetry. She says, ‘it is only by poetry that I feel understood.’
This poem, the first of hers to be published in English, is taken from her book of the same title, Trả về chân như (literally, ‘Return to Tathātā’). In this intimate collection, distributed only to her close friends and family, she shares experience as a Vietnam War orphan, a hard-working mother, a devoted practitioner of Buddhist meditation and a woman living with disability and chronic pain.
Introduced by Li Nguyen, Phi Hoàng’s daughter