by Lê Pham Lê

Once upon a time…
On a sunny afternoon,
A mountain girl washed her silk clothes
In a stream.
Her long shiny hair
Mirrored in the turquoise water.

As an oriole warbled on a branch,
She sang a lullaby,

             Lotus of the pond
             Grown from mud, but pure
             White flowers, green leaves, yellow pollen
             Such a beautiful queen*

Insects and birds
Seemed to be ceasing their songs
To listen to her.

Suddenly, a horse galloped.
Near the mountain pass,

Startled, the girl stopped singing
And hid in a bush nearby.
The traveler drew back the reins,
Looking around, but the person
With the secret voice was nowhere to be found.

Drip-drops of water soothed his mind.
Pulling a bamboo flute from his poetry bag,
The young man sat on a rock and played a love folk song,

             A swirl of blue and white
            The clouds float by in the sunny sky
             Makes me dream of marrying her…
             I would buy bricks from the Bát-tràng village.
             I would arrange them in such a way
             To build a crescent-moon lake to soothe her feet.**

The mountain girl popped her head
In and out of the bush.
Her heart pounded quickly in her chest.

Night fell
And the moon rose slowly,
Chasing away the last echo of day.

The tired horseman slept soundly,
Dropping his papers filled with calligraphy
On the grass.

“Could he be a poet?”
The girl whispered to herself,
Thankful to the moonlight
For the clear view of the horseman’s face
And gentle smile.

The next day
Before the first rays appeared in the East,
The horseman delayed his departure,
To search again for the girl
With the sweet voice.

Disappointed, he sighed
And picked up a piece of lavender silk.
Who knows why she left it there!
On horseback, he rode out of the jungle.
Only Heaven knows
Why he left behind his bamboo flute.

The mountain girl returned to the stream,

Where she washed her silky hair in the first place.
The herbal scent of the jungle comforted her.
She closed her eyes then opened them widely.
Surprisingly, a handsome face was reflected in the water.
Stunned, the girl turned to run
But the horseman stood before her.
She had no idea why he came back.
They said nothing, but the forest resounded
With birds’ twitters…

Quietly, the horseman bent his head,
Handed her a bouquet of wild flowers
Tied with bear grass
And a stem of bamboo leaves
Then waved good-bye to her
As he disappeared.

The mountain girl held his gift close to her lips.
The sun shone through branches at the edge of the stream.
To her surprise, imprinted on each bamboo leaf,
She found his poem.
The girl was in a dreamlike state,
Unable to get the horseman’s image out of her mind.
She stayed longer each day beside the stream.

No one saw the horseman again
Until one autumn morning,
When a breeze rustled a small cluster of wild bamboo
In the forest covered by fallen red leaves.
An owl welcomed him back with its hoot.
His horse replied with an angry neigh.

To the horseman’s surprise
A woodcutter appeared, showed him a tomb
Under a tree beside the stream,
“No one knows where she came from.” He said.
Yellow grass on the surface of her grave has begun to fade
As fragrant smoke of incense lingered in the air.

Puzzled, the horseman stared at his bamboo flute
Lying next to her poem written in strange, blurry, characters.
The horseman paid respect to the mountain girl’s spirit.
Burning her poem, he heard her singing once again,
That magical voice in the forest…

Back Button