The Cham are a people that live as much in present day reality as in self-memory, in tales of the great Champa Kingdom of centuries past and traditions more recent. Inrasara has been working to keep that memory alive, through poems that feature in the upcoming anthology The Purification Festival in April. Translation by Alec Schachner.

 

[POEM 1]

 

Pilgrimage to the dark of night

 

They are the last batch of pilgrims

departing from the night of the old century

departing — though not driven out by any wind

along the border of darkness. Departing.

 

So many endeavors wiped clean — they slowly step forward

reticently taciturn. Along the last century of the millennium

their speech tasteless dregs hidden in their pockets

bearing empty baskets on their heads, they go

knowing themselves to be the last people.

 

They go — in soundless motion

stopping to perform the rite soundlessly, reading the scripture soundlessly

even the candles striving to burn without a sound.

 

When all has burned out, they walk

from one faraway village to another faraway village

they see houses built like their houses/but not theirs

the sound of song like theirs but not theirs

the memories of history have depleted their archive — they go

very slowly to the opposite bank, trying to avert their eyes from the vestiges

they must resign themselves to bear the behest of unneeded historic fate

as the last people.

 

They flee vanishing into darkness, darkness waves its hand to refuse them

darkness floods over the road ahead, floods over their faces

they stoop themselves down very low, lower than those abandoned by the rite

Enduring patience. They huddle themselves up, smaller than their own shadows.

Suddenly two thin, slender arms stretch out.

And begin to dance, I feel

movements of wrists, hands, movements of fingers to a rhythm beyond seasons

what do those arms want to say? they are stretching to their utmost

suddenly breaking off. The shadow it mingles into blacker darkness

leaving behind only the empty space of the winding road which curves reaching

back towards the bright space

the last bright space.

 

Thus. They depart

not a single blade of grass raises its head to regard their presence

not a single dream’s gaze

the plight of the decrepit dynasty’s presence warps their sunken hollow eyes

without accusation, lamentation

they go back to the dark of night — behind the dark of night

as the wind sweeps across the bare hills of home, the shadows spill from their eyes

suddenly the wrinkly shriveled feet, soiled step free from the border

And begin to dance, I feel

(perhaps, I am the last to see)

the fertility dance of the desert birds

not pensive, anticipatory, indignant force footing lost and hung balancing

the dance of the final feast.

The final second of the final day.

Of the final month of the final century.

The final blink of the eyes. The final quiver of the lips.

The final glance back. The final sorrow.

The final spurt extinguished.

The final speck of ash.

The wind forces out its final gust.

 


 

Inrasara, 57, Vietnamese, Writer

 

 

Inrasara was born in 1957 in a Cham village in Ninh Thuan Province, Central Vietnam. He has published ten works on Cham language and culture, as well as over twelve literary works including poetry, novels and criticism. He is also the editor-in-chief of Tagalau journal, a literary platform for the Cham community.

 

In his early work, Inrasara wrote poetry he considers modernist, after which he began to draw from Cham tradition to harness poetry as a vehicle to tell the story of the individual self in his people’s soul, of the innermost feelings and destiny of the Cham people in Vietnam. Champa has many stories to tell the world.

 


 

[POEM 2]

 

The Riddle of Pauh Catwai*

 

I could not choose to be the child of the President of France or heir apparent to

the kingdom of Brunei

I could not choose to be born in Thailand or America

I’ve been Cham since the first cry broke from my lungs

(and a bit more: nine months ten days before the first cry broke)

whether I sink my roots into this place

or wander to the horizon’s edge

I will remain Cham even the moment I burn in the flames of life’s end.

 

Joyful ecstasy we’ve been discarded forgotten by history

joyful ecstasy we survive

joyful ecstasy we still have hands to shake, lips to kiss and afternoons to toast.

 

Truly fortunate — we have our heads and four limbs

still more fortunate — we still have father mother siblings friends

if mishap may slightly lack we are still luckier than the dead.

 

Raise your cups to congratulate us, the children of light and darkness conniving

children grown up among recycled civilization’s infinitesimal fragments

children of dusk and of dawn.

 

The culture of Champa is a culture of cheerful jest

accepting play even in suffering.

 

The river Lu with the fields of my native land

like the god Shiva with this world

Shiva who creates and destroys
the river Lu makes floods and nourishes the sediment

when the river Lu is redirected to follow zoning

it no longer makes floods

in the same instant ceasing to nourish the soil.

 

A hundred springs flow downstream

a hundred unattainably distant springs fancy meeting to form a mighty river

endlessly contemplating lofty arrogance each green spring goes to drain itself at

the hill’s back.

 

The bitter soil underfoot rejects the hoe

I eternally wait for the sky’s sweet season of plenty.

 

My Panduranga** is four seasons dry and thirsty

heavy rains gorge your region while in mine a shower sprinkles

corn harvested, beans harvested, why do I still hear loss

please come to my land, who knows if auspicious weather follows at your heels.

 

After the Purification Festival in April this year

even the little weak sparrow, the most humble ant

will also have soil to live, to play

 

In the midst of this high-born world of excess, the whole of poetics

could not redeem us

in this impoverished world of utmost misery, one single line of poetry

could also save us all

 

I remain sorrowful and hence I am alive

I still write and so I still love

when I cease to love I will have already died.

 

* Pauh Catwai is an ancient Cham epic

** The ancient name for Phan Rang

 


 

Alec Schachner, 28, American, Translator

 

 

 

The anthology is called The Purification Festival in April — it is a collection of Inrasara’s work selected from three of Inrasara’s previous publications.The goal of this anthology is to introduce a wide range of Inrasara’s work — his transitions scross lyric and narrative verse and forays into a diverse array of narratice modes — to a wider English-language readership.

 

I became interested in Inrasara’s work through my own research into Cham language and literature. Because of the enormous philosophical depth of Inrasara’s language, it is particularly difficult to capture in English. To quote Nguyen Tien Van, “Tho khong the dich duoc, nhung cung khong the khong dich tho duoc” — “Poetry can never be translated, but also poetry can never not be translated”.

 

 

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