Kathy Park Hong Reads from “The Flowers of Hell” by Nguyen Chi Thien
In the Jungle Night a Bird Calls
In the jungle night a strange bird calls
Followed by a guard’s tripping shoe sounds
A patrol flashlight beams here and there
From the cells come the shoutings of a madman
I lie immobile listening to the slipping away
Of my entire youth as it floats by
Jailings and diseases have killed in the bud
O how many burgeons that seek their way out.
My mother on anniversaries or festival days
Is wont to put her hands together and pray for a long time
Her old saffron dress has somewhat faded
But I would see her take out for the occasion
My life being full of suffering and injustice
Mother always has to pray for me
A son who has seen a number of jail terms
Causing tears to flow in streams on Mother’s cheeks.
Sitting next to her, I find myself so small
Next to this great vast love of my mother.
Mother, I only have one real wish
And that is, never to be far away from you!
Now each time that you sit in prayer
For your sick prisoner son in the deep jungle
The old, fading saffron dress you wear
Must be soaked with tears unending! 
A Letter from Home
A long while now we haven’t received word
From you, Mother and I are very concerned.
Let me tell you briefly the situation at home:
Your mother is now almost purblind
Her movements are confined to the house
As for me I feel almost senile
My legs shake whenever I move about
I have to think a few times before I can finish addressing an envelope.
We both wish you were home to help us
Thinking about you, both of us would cry
Not knowing whether you are still at the old camp
Or you may have been moved elsewhere.
Your mother still keeps up with her prayers
Praying that you be well, without illnesses …
When you receive this letter you should try
To write home, both of us wish to hear from you.
O it was your youth and lack of wisdom
That led you to think wrongly and complain
You should sincerely repent now
If you wish the Party to be lenient and forgive you
Only then can we hope to see you again
Before we would be gone for good!
We don’t know what else to say
Except counseling you in earnest to keep your health
You are still young
You must live on, my son!
Mother and I are still confident that Heaven
Would not harm an honest soul.
The other day I went to the post office
To send you my pair of socks
But the Rimifon that you asked for
We’ll have to wait till my next quarterly pension check
Before I can send it to you, for your illness.
In closing, I wish that you struggle well
Be first in labour and compete to beautify your camp.
Mum and Dad 
Little one, you have one arm tattooed: Social reject
And the other … Hatred unending
O mankind, can you ever suspect such a thing?
An eight-year old prison inmate!
Yet on my prison trail which for years I have walked
I have met thousands like him! 
They Exiled Me
They exiled me to the heart of the jungle
Wishing to fertilise the manioc with my remains
I turned into an expert hunter
And came out full of snake wisdom and rhino fierceness.
They sank me in the ocean
Wishing that I would remain in the depths
I became a deep sea diver
And came up covered with scintillating pearls.
They squeezed me into the dirt
Hoping that I would become mire
I turned instead into a miner
And brought up stores of the most precious metal
No diamond or gold, though
The kind to adorn women’s baubles
But uranium with which to manufacture the atom bomb.