Born in Việt Nam, LêPhạm Lê graduated from the University of Pedagogy in Sàigòn with a B.A. in Vietnamese Literature. After teaching in high school for five years, she left her country with her husband and young son due to the fall of South Việt Nam. In 1979, Lê and her family resettled in America, where she raised three children. Lê worked for more than two decades in the California community college system until her retirement in 2011.
Two collections of poems: GióThổiPhươngNào/From Where The Wind Blows with Nancy Arbuthnot (published by VIPS, USA, 2003) and TrùngDươngSóngVỗ/Waves Beyond Waves/荒波を越えてwith Nancy Arbuthnot and Noriko Mizusaki (published by Chikurintan, Japan, 2013).
Magical Voice in the Forest, Guava Hill, and The Baby Sparrow Song–Children Books. Published by TATE Publishing, USA, 2015-16.
“Peace Poetry Golden Medallion” (Japan, 2013) and “Distinguished Services” (USA, 2016) awarded by UPLI/WCP.
“Special Prize”/Writing On America (USA, 2016) awarded by Viet Bao Magazine.
Twilight off the coast of Malaysia.
A threatening storm. The coast guard fires
A warning and the refugees dive
To the deck. Holding her baby tight
A lone woman rises. Her cry
For help echoes through the night.
The guards cease firing.
The boat lands on the free island.
Are you calling, father, from the invisible world?
Father, I feel you, still alive.
Your diary―is it real or only a dream?
My filled heart overflows.
Your words echo on my mind.
I see the last leaf falling,
A soul sailing toward the ancestors,
Body still anchored to this shore.
In the same dream my sister appears.
I show her your words, then close the diary.
She squeezes a ripe plum tight in her palm.
Outside, wind blows, rain falls.
Mountains beyond mountains.
Misty fog settling on palms.
Tranquility of sky and cloud
On top of the mountain shaped like a dragon.
Kim Son temple: incense
And holy water, scent of dusk.
My heart, free from worries
On this path toward peace.
A sparrow, perched on a spear of bamboo.
A chameleon, clicking its tongue.
In the neighbor’s front yard, someone appears, disappears
Behind the grapefruit tree with snow-white flowers
That could flavor green tea instead of bitter melon brew.
The moon’s shadows flood the porch.
Behind the shades, a young girl lost in thought.
All the doors have been shut, she thinks.
But a strange wind still sneaks into her room.
Spring sky: a white curtain flowing―
A rider on horseback riding, riding,
Still falling on the road.
All sound muffled in mist.
How many rivers flow between our two shores?
Like waves crashing against rock, love explodes.
A quiet cry sinks to the bottom
Of the heart.
How the wind cries! How the wind howls!
Exhausted, my horse stops, turning his head away.
My heart, like a churning wind. . .
Still falling on the empty road.
Your smile cracks.
Love becomes myth.
That whitens my life forever. . .
Your voice in the quiet night
Lifts me from dreaming.
Yet the notes of regret
In your poems stir up a melancholy.
Do you hear in my singing
The centuries of emotion a friend once found?
Do you feel the beauty of the language
I’ve loved since infancy, when I knew nothing?
How lyrical Vietnamese is,
Wide as the sky, sweet as bananas,
Fragrant as the palm tree’s white flowers!
Can you hear
At the bottom of the well
Deep in the earth
The echoing drops of sorrow
My hidden self?
In your poems, familiar sounds:
Quiet tears at night,
And a playful
And look! Dusk’s shadows
Fall through the leafy branches.
I can almost hear the whispered words,
Light as an autumn breeze.
I can see the moon, vague on the far horizon.
Who could be indifferent,
Lost in this forest of poems?
Midnight. The phone rings
and my heart squeezes shut.
Another leaf about to fall. . .
as if it were yesterday,
here you are, swinging in your hammock
singing lullabies in the shade
of the coffee tree. “Such a green paradise!”
you say, “My place of peace.”
The summer afternoon breeze
from the white aramica flowers.
Your long hair flows with the wind.
I fall asleep in your arms.
I hear you call the chickens
to their rice and cornfeed meal,
and like a chicken plucking grains
I pick up ripe plums
from the ground after rain,
breathing the fresh earth
and gazing at the rainbow
hung in the sky.
in your Vietnamese dress,
paying respects to our ancestors,
theInvisibles, asking those sacred souls
to accept your prayers for me
at my exam in ÐàLḁt, how you calmed
my fevers those war-torn years!
The phone rings: a call
from the other side of the Pacific.
Mother, forgive me.
I cannot go home this time.
Her footsteps echo far far away.
No more singing in the house.
A man sits alone in an iron chair on the deck
Almost every dusk and dawn,
drinking tea, smoking cigarettes.
He stares at the quiet pond.
The koi, black and gold,
hide themselves at the bottom.
Maple bonsai have dropped their leaves.
This is the coldest and longest winter
since he’s been in this new land.
The master bedroom is vacant.
The children’s rooms empty too.
He wanders back and forth inside the house,
looking at the living room,
recently redesigned in contemporary style,
finding no comfort.
Trying to avoid the cold kitchen stove,
he lies down on a sofa
near the dark fireplace in the family room,
staring at the ceiling.
Hands on his forehead, he considers,
reconsiders, and revises his opinion
about things they’ve said over the many years.
Please with his first apologizes to her
last night, he realizes those magic words
in the poems he wrote
a long time ago are nothing
Like the muffled slapping of waves on the high seas
Her footsteps echo far far away.
No one sweeps the dry leaves and flowers
from the doorway.