Poetry Wednesday

Poetry Wednesdays: Phan Nhiên Hạo, “Meeting a Cab Driver in New York”

I can still barely believe that just yesterday, I was in Vietnam, staring and getting goosebumps at the pictures exhibited in the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. The most powerful people might consider war a necessary tactic or even precaution, whereas the rest of us would just want a peaceful existence.

I am astounded, moreover, by what the histories of Southeast Asian nations have in common: we’re all post-colonial societies gravely affected by colonizing Western nations and civil wars and/or dictatorships. Some of us then go to these same Western nations to escape poverty or seek refuge from the implosion of wars. Some of us have little sense of the past because it is the more recent memories that haunt us. But we’re a resilient people; slowly, we rebuild.

Here’s a poem I found from this site, a poem about migrants. I am somewhat affected by how it resonates among Filipinos; by how, after the initial euphoria of meeting a kababayan, we are left a little heartbroken at how our destinies diverge.

Meeting a Cab Driver in New York
Phan Nhiên Hạo
Translated from the Vietnamese by Hai-Dang Phan

The yellow cab runs on roads ripped open
by earthquakes and never sealed
skyscrapers jut overhead
Nguyen Van B. has lived in New York for 28 years
he’s still not fluent in English
his French is better

Robbed three times at gunpoint,
B. says: “Anything worth losing I’ve already lost,
country, youth, dreams
Back in Saigon my family had two servants
and one chauffeur
now I am the chauffeur of millions of people
In this city you catch a cab by whistling
just wave your hand I’ll run right up to you
like a yellow dog called Taxi…

…don’t worry, no need to tip me,
after all, we’re both Vietnamese.”

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