Uncurbed by either pretense or punctuation, Vietnamese poet Nhã Thuyên plays with nothingness as the tangibility of meaning.
In the ongoing fruitless search for a third-person-singular and gender-neutral term that remains both familiar and human in English, as "hắn" does in Vietnamese, the author and translator have settled on “that one.”
I don’t want to construct an obvious figure, actually, I can’t stand the model who fuels inspiration into this short story, I can’t stand that one the way someone with a chronic sinus infection can’t stand abnormal shifts in weather, I can’t stand that one to the point that every time I happen to be sitting among that one in a crowd, I start to feel short of breath, or whenever I feel short of breath, I immediately know that one’s scent must be in the air, though when am I ever not short of breath, I don’t want to even give the damn name there a form a hair color of sun-charred rust, a complexion of leaden motor oil, owl eyes or a hawk beak nose, with teeth just begging to tear apart the sky, I would rather no one remember anything about that one, I would rather that one have nothing “memorable,” and forget about the reader’s asking me for that one’s biography, matter of fact for that one’s mood to be more “truly human” of course, such luxury, no I will not stoop to placing a name on this figure, I would even toss those third-person-singular words that I feel are still too overly neutral and objective, like “one,” “guy,” “it,” “he,” “she” unless there was some one-syllable word more deserving, more potently biting to use as a replacement, I couldn’t call that one “zero,” you know very well it’s got two syllables there, and such plump, beautiful ones too, and I couldn’t call that one “shit” or “pig” or “trash” because unfortunately I’m someone inherently fair to all substances and categories of existence, like I said already, I’m not strong enough to kill that one with a gun, anyway how would I even get a gun, I can’t strangle that one, can’t strike that one down, cannot, I’ve got no strength at all, you know very well already how unsavory I am, matter of fact what a loser I am, on my ass all day eating, unemployed, without salary, and the fact that I love indulgently, live crudely, erratically, numerously, the fact that I’m scorning others, and for all that I still don’t have the spine to live quite as brutally as my deep wish is, to complete the self-portrait, like I already said, I decide to write about that one now, without biography, without mood, without name, without a single moral or immoral thing about that one, nothing at all, only to act out my impotent wish, downright tragic, I should find a way to erase that one, erase that one bit by bit, till that one’s extinct, there, there, the loser incapable of adding anything to this colorful diversity of existence, incapable of doing even one empty thing, right there, right there, the damn name watches me in a puddle of filthy water as I piss, a field of loser existence piss.
"Hư vô chủ nghĩa" © Nhã Thuyên. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Kaitlin Rees. All rights reserved.